Jaitley vows GST push despite lack of panel chief

Union finance minister Arun Jaitley on Friday met the empowered committee of state finance ministers to chalk out details of the long-awaited goods and services tax (GST, meant to replace a plethora of central and state taxes that make business difficult.

Jaitley said that the Constitution Amendment Bill on GST will be considered in the second part of the budget session of parliament, which begins 20 April.

He admitted that a new chairman of the HDY committee had not yet been appointed, as a few finance ministers could not attend the meeting.

''We had a meeting with the (state) finance ministers who were here. By consensus, we will have the new chairman of the empowered committee in the next few days,'' Jaitley said.

The delay in electing a new chairperson would not be an impediment in the process of taking the GST bill forward, he added.

''The primary agenda is to take the GST forward. I hope the constitution amendment bill, which has already been cleared by the standing committee, will be considered by Parliament in the second part of the session. The finance ministers of states will have to decide as to who the new chairman of the committee will be. We may need to have another meeting for further consultation,'' Jaitley said.

Critical bill
A committee on GST was set up in 2000 by the previous National Democratic Alliance  government led by Atal Bihari, under the chairmanship of West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta. It was mandated to help enable the states to switch from sales tax to value-added tax (VAT) regime.

On 1 April 2005, during the first term of the UPA government, state-level VAT replaced sales tax in a number of states; some, such as Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, joined later. Subsequently, the committee was mandated with facilitating states to switch to GST, in consultation with the Centre.

The election of a chairperson is important as he will have to achieve a consensus among states on the design of GST and have to devote time to overseeing the implementation.

The chairman post fell vacant as former chairman Abdul Rahim Rather, who was also formerly the  finance minister of Jammu & Kashmir, lost the assembly elections.

Various names such as of Gujarat finance minister Saurabh Patel, West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra, Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa and Kerala finance minister K M Mani are doing the rounds for the post of chairperson.