Ushering in the most sweeping tax reform since Independence at a special midnight ceremony in the Central Hall of Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday called the Goods and Services Tax (GST) a “Good and Simple Tax” which will be “not only a tax reform but an economic and social reform as well” that will unify the nation, “check corruption and end harassment at hands of officers”.
President Pranab Mukherjee, who graced the ceremony along with Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, ministers, MPs and a host of dignitaries and special invitees, called the GST a “disruptive change”, a consensus between the Centre and states, an effort “from persons across the political spectrum who set aside narrow partisan considerations and put the nation’s interests first”.
Mukherjee said the rollout of the indirect tax regime was “a tribute to the maturity and wisdom of India’s democracy”.
Earlier, the Prime Minister too underlined that “this is not the achievement of any one political party or any one government. This is the collective legacy of all, a result of the collective efforts of all (Yeh kisi ek dal ki siddhi nahin hai, kisi ek sarkar ki siddhi nahin hai. Yah hum sab ki saanjhi virasat hai. Hum sab ke saanjhe prayason ka phal hai)”.
Opposition parties including the Congress and Left stayed away but some like the JD(U), JD (S), SP, BSP and NCP broke ranks to attend the event.
The GST, which has four simplified slabs of 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent, is expected to pave the way for realisation of the goal of One Nation-One Tax-One Market. It will replace more than a dozen central and state levies and bring the country under a common market while ensuring better compliance.
Calling the rollout a “momentous event” with a scope of reform “truly breathtaking”, Mukherjee, who as Finance Minister under UPA II had introduced the Constitution Amendment Bill in 2011, stressed upon the need for effective implementation to tide over “teething problems” which, he said, were bound to happen whenever change of such magnitude takes place.
Modi sought to allay apprehensions regarding the new tax regime, saying it will not create problems for common people and no trader will henceforth be unduly harassed by officers. “Even when you get new spectacles, you need to adjust your eyes a bit,” he said. “It is a transparent and fair system that prevents black money and corruption and promotes a new governance culture. It has the potential to end harassment at hands of officers,” he said.
Linking the GST to the welfare of the poor, Modi said, “this system is going to be most relevant for the poor” and will help mop up, reach resources for development of regions which have lagged behind even after 70 years of Independence. He said the GST will play a crucial role in realising the dream of “New India”.
“GST is an important step in India’s economic integration, similar to what Sardar Patel did to integrate princely states, provinces (Jis Prakar se Patel ne riyasaton ko milakar desh ka ekikaran kiya, aaj GST ke dwara aarthik ekikaran ka ek mahatvapoorna karya ho raha hai).”
During the course of his address, the Prime Minister quoted Chanakya, Albert Einstein, Rig Veda and pointed out that like 18 chapters of the Gita , the GST Council too held 18 meetings before rolling out the new tax regime.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the implementation of the landmark unified tax should be seen as the beginning of a new journey that will expand the country’s economic horizon.