The Government today listed the Goods and Services Tax Bill for consideration and passage in the Rajya Sabha’s agenda for next week. Making a statement in the Rajya Sabha here today regarding government business for the week starting August 1, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014 will be taken up for consideration and passage.
The Business Advisory Committee (BAC) of the Upper House had earlier earmarked five hours for the Bill. It seeks to introduce a system for uniform taxation across the country and has been pending in the Upper House for a long time.
The Union Cabinet had on July 27 cleared changes in the Bill, doing away with the contentious one per cent manufacturing tax and providing guarantee to compensate states for any revenue loss in the first five years of the roll-out of the indirect tax regime.
The government is keen to get the Bill passed during the current session, which is scheduled to conclude on August 12. Once the Rajya Sabha passes the amended version of the Bill, it will go back to the Lok Sabha for its approval. The legislation was passed by the Lok Sabha in May 2015. The Rajya Sabha had referred it to a select committee.
The Bill has been held up in Rajya Sabha due to political equations between the ruling BJP and its allies on the one hand and the opposition Congress and its friends and allies on the other. The ruling coalition is devoid of a majority in the Rajya Sabha.
Faced with this roadblock, the Government had, of late, adopted the consensus-negotiation route. Sources said Jaitley told Opposition leaders at a meeting of the BAC last evening that he was ready to discuss any issue with them. He said anyone could approach him for any clarification and, if needed, he could go to any one of them. He also said that he would be available even over the weekend.
The government’s efforts to get the Bill passed gained momentum as Jaitley and Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian held several rounds of talks with Congress, Samajwadi Party, JD(U) and CPI(M) leaders. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Congress deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma held discussions with Jaitley.
“A serious effort is being made to bring a consensus on the GST Bill,” Sharma said without disclosing details on whether the Congress was insisting on its standing about putting a cap on the levy in the Constitution bill.
Jaitley also met SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and held talks with other leaders also.
Sources add that the government was also in touch with AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaal.
Meanwhile, five parties, including the Left, had on Thursday asked the Centre to assure states that their financial needs will be taken care of before the GST Bill is brought, which they allege seeks to take away states’ right to raise resources. This was conveyed by them to Jaitley when leaders of the parties in Rajya Sabha belonging to CPI(M), CPI, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and BJD met him.
Yechury said the Constitution amendment Bill would make states “come with a begging bowl to the Centre, placing them at the Centre’s mercy.” He said the GST Bill would deprive the states of their “right to raise resources” through sales tax, surcharge or cess. “The state governments will be deprived of their only right to raise revenue as this right will be abolished with the Bill” as they would not be able to impose any cess even during an emergency or natural disaster, he said, adding that this was conveyed to the Finance Minister at the meeting.
Regarding the meeting, Yechury said “we were merely informed about the discussion the government had with the Congress. There was no scope for a discussion.”
He also said there is “nothing in writing so far” on what the latest Bill actually says. Accusing the Narendra Modi government of going by the strength of the parties in Parliament to hold discussions on the GST Bill, he said “so we are immaterial in terms of number of seats we have. It is a game between the BJP and the Congress”.