With opposition to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill waning and Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying minutes before the monsoon session on Monday that every party “is in the mood to take the best decisions”, the Congress said it is willing to let the bill move forward, provided the government comes up with “concrete solutions” to its objections.
Anand Sharma, deputy leader of Congress in the Rajya Sabha — where the Constitution amendment bill is stuck for want of numbers — said, “The last meeting was a preliminary one, but it was positive. The ministers of finance and parliamentary affairs met me and the Leader of the Opposition. We briefed the Congress leadership about the meeting and asked them to come back with concrete proposals to address our party’s concerns.”
Asked if the Congress was softening its position, Sharma said the party was willing to move ahead if the government could address its concerns. “It is not a question of softening our position. The Congress has inherent wisdom and pragmatism,” he said.
Sharma reiterated the party’s concerns about having an 18% cap on the tax included in the bill, having an independent dispute redressal mechanism, and deleting the clause that allows for imposition on a 1% additional levy.
He said the Congress will use the session to raise issues of national importance. The Congress has given a number of notices for discussions on subjects ranging from the violence in Kashmir to the rise in prices, especially of food items, and what it termed “attacks on federalism by the government” in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. The Congress is looking at collaborating with other Opposition parties to corner the government.
Sources involved in negotiations on GST said the government could get back to the Congress as early as Tuesday, but the deliberations between the two sides could take longer. If the Congress is satisfied with the government’s response, it will consult other Opposition parties on supporting the bill, they added.
The business advisory committee that met in the afternoon allotted five hours for a discussion on the GST bill.
The Modi government, which is hoping to give a decisive push to its reforms agenda, wants the GST bill — that will radically alter the indirect tax regime across the country — passed in this session.
The government, Modi said, “has spoken with all parties separately and collectively. The sense we are getting is everyone’s mood is to take the best decisions (in the session)”. The remarks came a day after he told an all-party meeting that national interest, rather than who gets credit, should drive the functioning of Parliament.
Though the BJP closed in on the Congress in the Upper House, narrowing the gap in numbers between the two parties with elections to 58 seats in June, it still remains short of the majority mark even with the help of allies and other parties willing to support it.
The Congress now has only six more lawmakers than the BJP in the Rajya Sabha.