Striking a conciliatory note, parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu announced on Tuesday he was ready to talk to everyone including top Congress leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to evolve a consensus on passing the crucial GST bill next month.
Naidu said he had kicked off consultations with rival parties to reconvene the Parliament’s monsoon session in September with time running out for the passage of the bill to roll out the country’s biggest tax reform.
Sources, however, say the government is yet to get concrete assurance from the Congress, the principal opposition party, to help it pass the goods and services tax (GST) bill if a special session is convened.
“I appeal to all parties to act in national interest by respecting the mandate of the people,” Naidu told reporters in the Capital. “If some parties want to oppose any legislation they have all right to do so but it is undemocratic to stall the House and not allow taking up bills which are of paramount national interest.”
The GST, once implemented, is expected to dramatically alter tax administration in a one-shot solution by replacing a string of central and local levies such as excise, value added tax and octroi into a single unified tax to lower commercial barriers that impede ease of doing business.
“I have been and will be meeting leaders of various political parties to discuss all issues and seek their cooperation. The government shall, if required, call the second part of the monsoon session in order to pass important legislations,” Naidu said. “The delay in passage of the GST bill will hamper the aspirations of the people of India and in particular the dreams of our youth, who are thirsting for jobs.”
If the government decides to call an extension of the monsoon session that was on August 13 adjourned sine die, or without setting a date for resumption, it will also bring bills like the Negotiable Instruments Act along with the GST bill.
When Naidu spoke to Mallikarjun Kharge on Tuesday, the Congress lawmaker who leads his party in the Lok Sabha asked him to first provide a copy of the proposed GST bill. “We cannot support the GST bill till we know that our amendments have been included,” Kharge said.
Sources in the Congress said the party is yet to decide if it would cooperate with the government to get the bill passed.
“There’s one section that believes that if the government accepts our proposed amendments, the GST bill can be passed. Another section, however, is wary of cooperating with the government after it didn’t act on our demands to remove Sushma Swaraj and the two BJP CMs,” said a senior leader.
The opposition party has not allowed Parliament to function, demanding the resignations of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj as well as chief ministers Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan who are mired in controversies.
Congress sources added that the party wants four changes in the current bill: Capping the GST rate at 18%, deletion of a 1% surcharge as additional levy, compensation for local bodies for revenue loss and a separate dispute settlement mechanism.
“Earlier, we got feelers from the government that it was ready to withdraw the additional 1% tax that was primarily aimed to benefit Gujarat and Maharashtra,” said a Congress leader. “But they must accept our other proposals too.”