GST bill faces uncertain future in Lok Sabha

Finance minister Arun Jaitley today tabled the Constitution Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha to roll out the goods and services tax (GST) amidst opposition by the Congress and even parties that are close to the ruling NDA.

Despite an impression of consensus the meeting of an Empowered Group of Finance Ministers held on Thursday had given, the finance minister's expectations of unanimity proved wrong with the Congress and even BJP supporters AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal opposing the bill citing differences on the issue.

Finance minister's move to introduce the bill without the issue being discussed by the Business Advisory Committee led to vociferous Congress opposition. AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal supported the Congress.

Later, Congress MPs led by Sonia Gandhi staged a walkout.

Deputy speaker Thambi Dorai made repeated efforts to convince the finance minister to send the bill to a Standing Committee as he felt that Tamil Nadu would suffer huge losses if the GST bill is passed in its present form.

Biju Janata Dal MPs Thathagat Sathpaty and B Mahatab also raised similar issues.

The finance minister, however, rejected the criticism to move the bill for consideration, with Jaitley saying GST was one of the most extensively debated bills, having been discussed for 12 years now.

"I think we did not have a more extensive debate on any bill since 1950... It is not merely the advantages of GST but also the maturity of the political system... how much more will India wait to reap the advantages of it."

Parties pointed out that a bill could be introduced when the House was conducting financial business, ie, the ongoing discussion on the budget and the Finance Bill.

However, Jaitley said: "The UPA must start supporting legislations that it had itself introduced. You should be happy that the good work was done by your government. I'm accepting that, complimenting you and taking it forward."

Sonia Gandhi reminded the finance minister that the BJP had earlier opposed the bill.

''The Congress supports the bill, but wants to make the point that rules cannot be by-passed,'' Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said. "Why don't we just disband standing committees."

The GST Constitutional Amendment Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Congress government in 2011, had lapsed and the present government had to come up with a fresh legislation.

The Constitution amendment Bill will require a two-thirds majority in both Houses. The government claims to have the consent of states, who are key stakeholders.