The Lok Sabha took up the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill for consideration Friday even as Opposition parties staged a walk-out after putting up a stiff resistance citing procedural objections.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who was present all through, oversaw her party members pitch against what they termed government bulldozing and later led them out of the chamber when the Speaker did not accept their plea. The Trinamool Congress, Left parties and the NCP joined the walk-out, while the AIADMK and the BJD, which had articulated similar objections, stayed back in the House.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley described the Bill as a “win-win measure” and said states did not need harbour any sense of fear. Opposition members, who wanted the Bill to be referred to the standing committee to start with, listed a string of objections. As both sides flashed the rule-book and argued their conflicting views, Speaker Sunitra Mahajan appeared to be inclined to go along the Opposition view at one stage. However, she finally ruled in favour of Jaitley, who had suggested that he be allowed to make introductory comments and a discussion could be taken up at a later date.
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The GST Bill, a bold tax-reform measure, was introduced in the Lok Sabha last December. It stipulates a single rate of GST in place of central excise, state VAT, entertainment tax, octroi, entry tax, luxury tax and purchase tax on goods and services. While liquor has been completely kept out of the GST, petrol and diesel will be part of the new regime from a date to be decided by the GST Council, which will have two-thirds of its members drawn from states and the remaining from the Centre.
Jaitley said, the structure of the GST Council will be such that states have the veto power. Since the states will have a two-thirds majority, therefore, even if half of them come together, they will have a veto.
Jaitley said: “The GST is going to lead to a win-win situation as far as the Centre and the states are concerned… It is going to up India’s GDP… It is going to up India’s revenue.”
He said the Centre and states will have concurrent powers to levy tax on goods and services. Rejecting the Opposition demand that it be sent to a standing committee, Jaitley said, “I think, we did not have a more extensive debate on any Bill since 1950.” Sonia could be seen contesting him when he said the “UPA must start supporting legislations which it brought in.”