Government reaches out to Opposition, Cong signals all-clear next week

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley speaks in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on July 28 during the ongoing monsoon session.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley speaks in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on July 28 during the ongoing monsoon session.

NEW DELHI (TIP): Efforts to hammer out a consensus on the long pending Goods and Services Tax bill gathered momentum on July 28 for its likely tabling in the Rajya Sabha next week with the government reaching out to opposition parties even as the Congress described the exercise as “constructive and positive”.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanyam on July 28 held several rounds of talks with leaders of Congress and other parties including the Samajwadi Party, JD(U) and CPI(M).

Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Anand Sharma and Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha participated in the discussions with Jaitley. There were two rounds with the Congress leaders.

“Serious effort is being made to bring a consensus on the GST bill,” Sharma said without disclosing details on whether the Congress was insisting on its standing about putting a cap on the levy in the Constitution bill.

Congress sources said party Vice President Rahul Gandhi also expects a positive outcome from these consultations. They said the discussions have entered a “decisive and positive phase”.

“Talks are on with various parties on GST and so far things are moving forward as expected,” a senior government functionary said adding the effort is on to present it in the Rajya Sabha next week.

Sources say Jaitley told the opposition leaders that government wants to bring consensus on the GST and was ready for talks with any leader even during the weekend to hear out and address their concerns on the issue.

A top congress leader, however, said they were awaiting the draft of the legislation after “extensive talks” with the government and hoped for a “positive outcome”.

At the meeting of Business Advisory Committee (BAC) of Upper House today evening, the GST bill was not discussed as it has already earmarked five hours for the bill last week.

Jaitley also met SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and held talks with other leaders also.

Sources add that the government is also in touch with AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa on the key bill. Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked to Yadav when the Rajya Sabha was adjourned briefly during the Question Hour. Modi remained seated in the House during the brief adjournment and spoke to Yadav and another SP member Neeraj Shekhar.

Meanwhile, five parties, including the Left, on Thursday asked the Centre to assure states that their financial needs will be taken care of before the GST Bill is brought, which they allege seeks to take away states’ right to raise resources.

This was conveyed by them to Jaitley when leaders of the parties in Rajya Sabha belonging CPI(M), CPI, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and BJD met him.

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said the Constitution amendment bill would make the states “to come with a begging bowl to the Centre, placing them at the Centre’s mercy.”

He said the GST Bill would deprive the states of their “right to raise resources” through sales tax, surcharge or cess.

“The state governments will be deprived of their only right to raise revenue as this right will be abolished with the Bill” as they would not be able to impose any cess even during an emergency or natural disaster, he said, adding that this was conveyed to the Finance Minister at the meeting.

“The GST Bill is only meant for imposing a tax. It does not deal with Centre-State relations. So, a resolution has to be found outside the Bill and the government has to come out with an assurance,” the CPI(M) leader said, adding that “we will have to see how the government addresses this issue.”

Regarding the meeting, Yechury said “we were merely informed about the discussion the government had with the Congress. There was no scope for a discussion.”

He also said there is “nothing in writing so far” on what the latest bill actually says.

Accusing the Narendra Modi government of going by the strength of the parties in Parliament to hold discussions on the GST Bill, he said “so we are immaterial in terms of number of seats we have. It is a game between the BJP and the Congress”.

Asked whether Jaitley indicated by when the bill will be brought to Rajya Sabha, the CPI(M) leader said “there is no indication. It will all depend on what is happening between the BJP and the Congress.”

The government is working to address the concerns raised by opposition parties, including Congress, on the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, known as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill. The Bill seeks to introduce a system for uniform taxation across the country and has been pending for a long time.

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