A discussion on four Bills related to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) led to sparring between Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, with Saugata Roy of TMC pitching in.
As the discussion on the Bills briefly took a backseat, the leaders exchanged barbs over the strength of the parties in Parliament, ability of some members to win an election, and allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal.
After Goyal concluded his speech, loaded with political attack on the Congress, Kharge tried to counter it with similar vigour. “You repeatedly said the Congress would get only 2-4 seats. Just see who is speaking – this man never got elected in a corporation… it’s a democracy, 125 crore people in this country will decide who will be elected to this house… You should remember your party was just two in 1984… There was only a proposer and a seconder,” he said, provoking the treasury benches to stand up and object.
Kumar took exception to Kharge’s remark and said the Congress MP was trying to ridicule a Rajya Sabha MP. “He should apologise.” Kumar asked Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai to intervene. But Congress’ K C Venugopal pointed out that Goyal throughout his speech attacked the Congress. “If you are expunging the remark of Kharge, the minister’s speech also should be removed,” he said.
The four Bills were titled Central GST (Amendment) Bill, Integrated GST (Amendment) Bill, GST (Compensation to States) Amendment Bill and Union Territory GST (Amendment) Bill.
Goyal told the House that GST on nearly 400 goods and 68 services has been reduced in the last year. Kharge said the government did not know how to implement GST, due to which industry had suffered. Roy said the slashed rates on 100 “mass use” items, which was recently announced, were a “pre-poll sop” and asked how the public exchequer would be compensated for the Rs 12,000 crore that it would lose due to these reductions.
Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo of the BJD opened by saying that “the government is doing too little and taking too much time to do it”. He said that businesses have to file 37 tax returns and that GST had not “met its objective”. He said that under the GST regime, the effective tax rate was second highest in the world, barring Chile. He said the entire system needed to be simplified, and “grey areas” or loopholes in the law fixed as it leads to corruption.
Several Opposition members asked for various items to be brought under lower tax categories in the GST, pointed out that GST implementation had been problematic. They said the system was very complicated and cumbersome. Several members also brought up the issue of delayed refunds to states, and that the states were not being compensated enough. Reiterating his party’s demand for special status, TDP leader Jayadev Galla added that “people of the state are not fools or illiterates” and they would give a “befitting reply in the election”.
Responding to the discussion, Goyal said that tax collection would not come down with reduction of tax rates, rather lower rates would improve compliance and enhance revenue collection. He said that GST was “empowering” the people, and mentioned that the government had collected GST in line with the country’s fiscal deficit target.