D-day for GST bill may be Monday
New Delhi: If all goes according to plan, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is likely to present the constitutional amendment bill to roll out the goods and service tax (GST) in the Rajya Sabha early next week—probably even on Monday.
Ahead of doing so, the NDA reached out afresh on Thursday evening to the Congress, which has so far been the stumbling block in the upper House of Parliament, to forge a consensus and avoid a vote. These talks are likely to go on over the weekend, said people familiar with the discussions.
Senior members of the NDA are confident that the weeklong discussions with the Congress and other regional parties will translate into support for the crucial bill in the upper House. There is a view in the government that the GST bill should be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.
With just 10 working days left for the monsoon session of Parliament to end, NDA members are keen that the bill be presented at the earliest so that there is time for a proper discussion and debate in the House and every political party gets time to voice its concerns.
“The bill is likely to be tabled early next week. Most parties have agreed to support the bill. The government is confident of the numbers in the Rajya Sabha but since this is a constitutional amendment bill, building a consensus was felt necessary,” said a senior minister in the NDA, who did not want to be identified.
The NDA is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha with just 72 MPs. A vote will test its floor management skills as it will need the support of at least 163 members in the 245-seat house to pass the constitutional amendment bill.
In a shift in strategy, senior ministers in the government have reached out individually to various political parties and tried to address their concerns on the crucial bill.
In a similar move on Thursday, senior NDA ministers held consultations with Congress and regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party, Biju Janata Dal, Trinamool Congress, Janata Dal (United), the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
“Most of the discussions with Congress leaders are informal. Some of the senior-most bureaucrats and chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian also met Congress leaders on Thursday evening to understand the concerns being raised by the party. We have been talking to Congress leaders almost every day this week,” the minister mentioned above added.
The cabinet had accepted some of the recommendations of a Rajya Sabha select committee, such as doing away with the contentious 1% additional levy on supply of goods, one of the Congress’s three demands, and proposing full compensation to states for five years for any revenue loss arising from the transition to GST.
However, the government did not accept two other key demands of the Congress: capping the GST rate at 18% and inclusion of a provision for a dispute resolution panel in the bill. Both these demands have been strongly opposed by state governments, and finance minister Arun Jaitley said these changes were neither feasible nor practical.
Only the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, under Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, continues to oppose the bill.
Political analysts feel that the GST will be a milestone for the government if it is able to push the bill through the Rajya Sabha.
“The GST bill is as significant as a trust vote for the government because it has to have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha to pass the constitutional amendment. It will be a big success for the government because all political parties, chief ministers and every state government is waiting for the bill to be passed,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.