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“No one in India has all the answers to everything to do with GST,” said Delhi Finance Minister Manish Sisodia during the government’s Facebook Live on GST Friday. He explained that the tax regime, which he supported and maintained “would benefit all”, was “constantly evolving”. That the event was preceded by a lot of controversy was another instance of that “evolution”, he said.
The Facebook Live, which Sisodia hoped to hold last week, had led to a standoff between him and the Delhi government’s Directorate of Information & Publicity (DIP). The DIP had cited lack of “specialty” and the need for an “open tender” for the event, prompting Sisodia to issue directions to the chief secretary to take action against the DIP head.
Friday, though, was a new day, with officials calling the incident “a misunderstanding”. Between 6 pm and 7 pm, flanked by VAT commissioner H Rajesh Prasad and another officer, Sisodia clarified, “This isn’t my Facebook Live, it is the government’s. This is an attempt to speak to you directly. We might not be able to answer all your questions right now…”
A little later, Sisodia was informed by many of the 3,114 viewers that the officers needed to speak into the mic. “Volume, every one is saying. We should speak closer to the mic,” Sisodia explained to the VAT officers. Behind the camera were officials of the DIP, VAT department, other Delhi government officials, and Sisodia’s close aides. Their job, officials said, was to ensure that the questions were quickly scanned through and then passed on to Sisodia.
At the outset, Sisodia, while making a case for the new tax regime, which would “ensure that India has one tax department instead of the existing 17”, admitted that answers might be harder to come by than many hoped. “There are doubts, there are worries… We can’t answer all your questions and I’d like to underline that, right now, there is no one in the country who has the answers to every thing to do with GST. Because right now GST is evolving. The good thing is that we are talking to you about it… this is an attempt to evolve.”
By 7pm, the Facebook Live recorded a little over 3,000 unique viewers. Officials said they hope more people would watch the video later to get a better understanding of the matter. Questions that came during the session ranged from whether GST would apply to income from rent, to problems faced by traders in registering with the VAT office.
Complaints included putting “food supplements” as luxury items or plans to tax “necessities” such as adult diapers and goods for persons with disabilities.
Sisodia concluded by explaining why the interaction was taking place online: “This is so that we can interact more often and directly. We are hoping that the GST will be good and we support it in principle. But if there are problems in implementation, if people face losses — the Delhi government will stand by you.”