Punjab govt waives its half of GST on langar items at Golden Temple
Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Wednesday announced in the Vidhan Sabha that the state will forgo its half of the goods and services tax (GST) levied on food items coming into the Golden Temple, Amritsar, for langar (community kitchen). While putting the emotive issue of taxing items at the prime Sikh shrine into the central government’s court now, on a further demand by legislators, the CM announced this waiver also for two Hindus shrines — Amritsar’s Durgiana Mandir and Ram Tirath Temple — besides declaring that respective community leaders can choose a mosque and a church, too, for the benefit, “because we are a secular force”.
In seven months from July 1, 2017, when GST was started, to January 31, 2018, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) that manages the shrine has paid Rs 2 crore in GST (50:50 share of Centre and state) for purchase of langar items at the Golden Temple that has the world’s largest community kitchen.
The CM made the waiver announcement after Dera Baba Nanak’s Congress MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa raised the issue during the debate on the governor’s address, and finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal proposed a resolution for the waiver for Golden Temple. “In 2002, when I took over in my previous term as CM, sales tax was waived, and now we will not charge GST on langar items at Golden Temple,” the CM announced.
Then, upon a demand by BJP MLA Som Parkash to extend the benefit to Durgiana Mandir too, parliamentary affairs minister Brahm Mohindra got up and asked to cover a prominent mosque in Malerkotla and a church too. Leader of opposition Sukhpal Singh Khaira of the Aam Aadmi Party too demanded a resolution for the waiver. The CM again got up and announced to cover the other shrines.
This put the treasury benches in control of the issue, and MLAs of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) could say little given that their alliance is in power at the Centre in the BJP-led NDA regime. Even when initiating the debate, Randhawa said it was ironic that while the SAD controls the management of Golden Temple and other historical gurdwaras with a majority in the SGPC, its MP and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal failed to make the Union government waive GST on langar items. He underlined that Union finance minister Arun Jaitley has rejected such a waiver.
Reacting, former state finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa of the SAD said only the GST Council, with members from all states, can take decision on the matter, and that Union ministers or the Centre alone has no role. At this, Manpreet Badal, who represents Punjab on the council, said the matter was taken up but rejected because the council has a majority of BJP members. The Congress government raised this issue thrice before the council, but the request was rejected outright, he further said.
Procedurally, before the FM read out the resolution for the waiver, parliamentary affairs minister Mohindra took assurances from all parties for support. Unanimously passed, it pressed the central government to waive its GST share, too, for Golden Temple and Durgiana Mandir.
Commissions’ reports to be tabled in House
The state government will table in the Vidhan Sabha all reports of various probe commissions set up by it , the CM said to a query from Khaira. Later talking to the media, the CM said the Narang Commission report into alleged irregularities in mining contracts is ready to be presented in the House any day in the current session, and reports of the Ranjit Singh Commission and Mehtab Singh Commission — investigating sacrilege cases and alleged false cases during the SAD-BJP regime, respectively — will also be tabled once ready. The issue of sacrilege cases figured prominently in the House as Congress MLAs, joined by main opposition AAP, cornered the Akalis over this issue, besides on drugs and law and order during the SAD-BJP regime that was in power for 10 years until March last year.
(The story has been updated)