Finance minister Arun Jaitley has singularly blamed the Congress top leadership for stalling the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill in Parliament, alleging that a majority of the party’s second-rung leaders support the legislation.
Addressing the head honchos of India Inc at a media function on Saturday evening, Jaitley said, “It is obvious that not allowing the bill to pass is giving some people sadistic pleasure. But then, democracy has its own strengths, and the last laugh is the best one.”
The Constitutional Amendment Bill to roll out the GST is currently stuck in the Rajya Sabha due to stiff opposition from the Congress, which is demanding the inclusion of a provision to cap the maximum rate at 18%. The NDA does not have enough numbers to effect its passage in the Upper House.
Referring to the Rajya Sabha as the “last bastion of obstruction”, the finance minister alleged that the Congress top leadership was hijacking popular opinion on the key tax reform legislation within the party. “When I speak to the party mid-command, I come back with a sense of optimism, and when I meet them just before Parliament is about to commence, every morning I think the high command prevails over the mid-command,” he said, adding that the problem was “with a few individuals” – not the country’s politics.
Making references to certain Congress leaders who were supportive of the bill, Jaitley questioned why his predecessors – P Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee – did not think twice before pushing the Bill with a legal cap on the peak GST rate. He alleged that though there was a “complete coalition” of those supporting the legislation, including regional parties and UPA allies like the RJD, NCP and JDU, only the Congress was stalling it.
Jaitley, however, lauded Chidambaram’s efforts during his tenure as finance minister to resolve possible issues between the Centre and the states with regard to the GST regime.
The Union minister also touched upon the issue of tariffs, which has become a bone of contention between the government and the Opposition, stating that it cannot be defined in the Constitution. He warned that if such an action is taken, constitutional amendments would have to be moved each time a natural disaster causes a change in tariff.
However, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh denied allegations that his party was against the GST Bill. “The truth is that the BJP, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah do not want GST. But they are putting the blame on Congress,” Ramesh claimed, adding that BJP leaders should refrain from spreading “falsehood”.
Meanwhile, the government continued to hold on to hope that the tax legislation would be passed in the upcoming budget session of Parliament. Addressing the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association in Vijaywada, Union parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu divulged that he had asked Congress chief Sonia Gandhi during a recent meeting to “support… the GST Bill in the interests of the nation”.
“I clarified to (Congress chief) Sonia Gandhi at last Thursday’s meeting that the government has already incorporated a provision to cap the peak GST rate,” he said, adding that this was something the UPA government’s version of the legislation did not have.
Besides capping the maximum GST rate, the Congress also wants a Supreme Court judge-headed dispute resolution panel and the removal of 1% additional tax on inter-state transfer of goods. “GST would check corruption in taxation departments. Our GST Bill is more advanced than the ones in many other countries,” Naidu said.