The government kept hopes alive for the passage of the country’s biggest tax reform, the goods and services tax (GST) bill, with top sources saying it could try to reconvene Parliament’s monsoon session around August 24 after an all-out effort to bring the Congress on board.
Sources said the government took a calibrated decision on Thursday to not prorogue, or formally end, the monsoon session where it failed to transact much business due to Opposition disruptions.
The ruling BJP, however, has an uphill task ahead to convince the Congress, the principal Opposition party, to help it pass the 122nd constitutional amendment to roll out the GST. The bitter acrimony between the two parties had plummeted to a new low over the Congress demand for sacking foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and two BJP chief ministers mired in controversies.
Both Houses of Parliament were adjourned sine die on Thursday but finance minister Arun Jaitley declared that the cabinet committee on parliamentary affairs (CCPA) decided not to prorogue the session through a Presidential notification.
“The government will now have to convene another CCPA meet to decide on the dates and request the Speaker and Rajya Sabha chairman to reconvene the session,” said former Lok Sabha secretary-general P Sreedharan.
Another ex-SG of the lower House, TK Viswanathan, added that there was no need for any notice period to reconvene the session. “Generally, a 14-day notice is given for submitting questions from private members. But if the Speaker and chairman want, they can waive off the notice period.”
Jaitley said the government was determined to implement the GST from next April, hours after the monsoon session’s current schedule ended. “We will not tell you our strategy, but we are determined it happens by April,” he told the media.
In a bid to woo the Congress that walked out of the House, the government did not try to push any legislative business in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
When asked about attempts of regional parties like the NCP, Trinamool Congress, JD(U), RJD and National Conference to form a federal front, Jaitley pointed out, “All these parties want the GST more eagerly than we do and the numbers in the Rajya Sabha, even for a constitutional amendment, were loaded against the Congress.”
The finance minister also said the government will ensure Tamil Nadu doesn’t lose any revenue because of the implementation of the GST, seen as an attempt to win over the state’s ruling AIADMK.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury told HT that his party doesn’t have any problems with a special session or an extension of the current session, but added, “The moot question on which the House failed to transact business in this session will remain relevant even in that session,” indicating that the Opposition may sustain pressure on the government to sack tainted ministers.
Further delay in the passage of the GST bill would cause many other processes linked to its roll-out to get postponed even further. The rates cannot be decided before the law is enacted.
“The GST would have created a common market across the country. It would have enabled the easy movement of goods and contributed to GDP growth. Their (the Congress) aim was to delay the GST,” Jaitley said.
The bill has not specified the rates, but empowers the GST council—a panel headed by the central finance minister and state counterparts—to fix them through a process of consultation. The council can be formed only after the bill is passed.
Also, in the absence of rates, the IT backbone needed for the new tax cannot be tested for glitches ahead of its roll-out.