The government and the opposition Congress have resumed informal talks to iron out differences on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill despite the deepening confrontation between the two in Parliament over the National Herald issue. Meanwhile, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Friday again targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the National Herald case was being driven by his office, while Sonia Gandhi virtually rejected the Prime Minister’s plea to let Parliament function, saying let the Prime Minister say what he wants.
The Congress said there was no forward movement after informal talks between Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress deputy leader Anand Sharma. It is learnt that the government handed over some proposals to address the Congress’s three key demands — 18 per cent cap on the tax, formation of a GST Disputes Settlement Authority and scrapping of the proposed 1 per cent additional tax that ends up favouring producer states.
Sources said the top Congress leadership would meet Sunday to discuss the strategy in Parliament for the next week as also the next course of action on the GST Bill. There has been unease among a section of the leadership over the decision to stall Parliament over the National Herald issue. Sources indicated the strategy could be tweaked.
This is the first contact between the government and Congress after the National Herald issue came up.The next round of formal talks could take place on Monday after the Congress meeting on Sunday. Sources said both the sides had narrowed some differences during the informal talks earlier.
Sharma said the government has held informal talks with him and Azad, but added that the Congress is yet to get the “final proposition” from the government. “Once we get it, we will deliberate on it and get back to the government,” he said, reiterating that it is still a work in progress as many clauses of the Bill are yet to brought to the level of “acceptable closure”.
Sources said the Congress could accept a proposal to incorporate tax rates in the GST legislation, which will follow the Constitution Amendment Bill that is pending in the Rajya Sabha. The Congress had been insisting that the rate be specified in the Constitution Amendment Bill. The government, on the other hand, had ruled out a constitutional cap.
The government has already signalled its willingness to drop the additional 1 per cent tax in inter-state sales over and above the GST rate, which was another key demand of the Congress. There appears to be forward movement on the third contentious issue as well — setting up of the dispute settlement authority headed by retired judges. Sources said Jaitley has stumbled upon a noting made on the file by his predecessor P Chidambaram wherein he is said to have favoured empowering the GST Council and leaving the dispute redressal to the council.