Opposition stalls GST Bill, Sonia leads walkout

The Hindu, April 25, 2015

The Modi government?s attempt to secure parliamentary approval for the long-pending Goods and Services Tax regime, a key reform measure, hit its first roadblock on Friday within minutes of Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley moving it for consideration in the Lok Sabha.

Impervious to Mr Jaitley?s plea that the Bill?s enactment would lead to a ?win-win? situation for both the Centre and the states, increase the country?s GDP and its revenues, opposition MPs belonging to the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Left Parties and the Nationalist Congress Party, led by Sonia Gandhi, walked out in protest against the government?s refusal to send it to a Standing Committee.

The AIADMK and the Biju Janata Dal, too, opposed the consideration but did not join the walkout. AIADMK leader and Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai said that if implemented in its present form, the Bill would result in Tamil Nadu losing as much as Rs 16,000 crores, a contention contested by the Finance Minister.

More time sought to study GST Bill

The Union government had been banking on the Congress for help to pass the Goods and Services Tax Bill in both Houses of Parliament. Since this key reform measure comes in the form of a Constitution Amendment Bill, it requires two-thirds support, making the backing of the Congress all the more critical.

Urging the Congress to support the Bill, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stressed, ?The UPA must start supporting legislation that it itself introduced ? You should be happy that the good work which was done by your government, I?m accepting that, complimenting you and taking it forward.?

However, the Congress is unwilling to support this version of the Bill as it differs from the one that the UPA government had drafted, a point that M. Veerappa Moily of the party made.

Opposition MPs, alleging that the government was ?bulldozing? them and bringing the Bill in a ?hush-hush? manner, sought more time to study the ?new? legislation. Meanwhile, they said, Parliament could complete the financial business for which the Budget Session was intended.

Mr. Jaitley assured the Opposition of all cooperation from the government to complete the business of demands for grants of various Ministries before the Guillotine is applied on April 28.

After an hour of heated exchanges over procedure between the government and the Opposition, the Bill was taken up after Speaker Sumitra Mahajan ruled that it was an important piece of legislation on which the Finance Minister could make introductory comments, with a discussion at a later date.

In his introductory remarks, Mr. Jaitley sought to assuage fears of the States that they would suffer revenue losses once the GST was implemented, saying the Centre and the States would have concurrent powers to levy tax on goods and services.

Stressing that when the value-added tax (VAT) was introduced, the States had demanded compensation for more than five years, he said not a single State asked for compensation in the sixth year.

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