GST bill on Monday, Jaitley 'keeping fingers crossed'

30 July 2016

Confident of support from most political parties, the government has listed the Goods and Services Tax Bill for introduction in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, according to media reports.

Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told the upper house earlier that the bill will be taken up next week. The bill has already been passed by the Lok Sabha.

The government is gearing up for a five-and-half hour discussion in the Rajya Sabha. As part of this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with finance minister Arun Jaitley, home minister Rajnath Singh and Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah at his residence, a report in The Indian Express said today.

However, the Congress is still playing its cards close to its chest. A report in Hindustan Times said the Congress is yet to take a final decision on the bill.

"I would advise the media to wait till the negotiations and discussions are concluded," Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said. Surjewala's comment is an indication that the Rajya Sabha will see a heated discussion when it comes up.

In the amended bill approved by the cabinet, it is to be noted that only one of the three Congress demands has been met. The Congress demands were removal of the 1 per cent additional state levy that seeks to compensate loss of revenue for manufacturing states such as Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, including the GST rate in the Constitutional amendment, and setting up a dispute resolution mechanism headed by a high court judge.

Of this, only the first demand has been fully accepted. The other two have been met only partially.

When asked about the prospects for the passage of the Bill, Jaitley told a newspaper, ''I am keeping my fingers crossed.''

On 27 July, the Cabinet had cleared changes in the legislation, including removal of the 1 per cent manufacturing tax and providing guarantee to compensate states for any revenue loss in the first five years of rollout of the ambitious indirect tax regime.

The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in May 2015 and vetted by the Rajya Sabha Select Committee.

However, the measure got stuck in the upper house where the government does not have majority of its own, as the main opposition Congress sought certain changes in it.

The government has been making all efforts to hammer out a consensus on the bill by reaching out to opposition parties. The Congress has described the exercise as "constructive and positive".

The GST legislation, which intends to convert 29 states into a single market through a new indirect tax regime, was earlier planned to be introduced from 1 April this year, but the deadline was missed as the legislation to roll it out remained in limbo in the Opposition-dominated Rajya Sabha.

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