Cong open to bargain on key demand; Nitish meets Jaitley, reaffirms support.
As government garnered support from regional parties on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill, the Congress appeared to be open to negotiating on its key demand for an 18 per cent cap.
The indication, that the Congress was open to bargaining to find a middle path, came on a day when Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar reiterated that the JD-U supported GST and opposed the 18 per cent cap being included in the Constitution Amendment Bill. Nitish, who met finance minister Arun Jaitley in his Parliament House office on Tuesday evening, was of the view that the cap should be left to the GST Council.
At a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party in the morning, Jaitley had said that the government was trying to evolve consensus on GST. He said while one round of meetings had been held with Congress, another would be held with regional parties. He asked the MPs to ensure their presence for two crucial bills– GST and Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) amendment.
The Congress, which was awaiting concrete responses from the government on its three demands, is mulling over the option of including their demand for 18 per cent cap in the subsequent bills related to GST and not the Constitution Amendment Bill, according to party sources. After the Constitution Amendment Bill is passed, there are three more legislations– Central GST (CGST), State GST (SGST) and Integrated GST (IGST) – which need to be passed.
Congress leader Anand Sharma met Jaitley briefly. The party, however, said it had no information of any second round of meeting between its leaders and government. “The Congress wants to see the GST in principle to be enforced, a strong GST bill with strong enough provisions. We hope that the government given its mandate will show magnanimity in allowing a different set of opinions and allow that platform to be created so that all of us can come together and ensure that GST gets passed,” Congress spokesperson Gaurav Gogoi said.
Meanwhile, on the Congress’s other two demands– abolishing one per cent surcharge and a strong grievance redressal system for Centre-state disputes– the government could soften, sources said.
The government has exuded confidence that it would be able to evolve consensus on the bill, for which parties have agreed to allocate five hours in Rajya Sabha. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that NDA should reach out to all parties, including small ones.
Jaitley will try to reach out to the three-member TRS during his trip to Telangana over the weekend, and will meet chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.
Meanwhile, the government is also all set to vote for CAMPA, another bill on which the Congress is seeking several amendments. Jaitley told the BJP MPs that the bill, once passed, would ensure
Rs42,000 crore for afforestation. If the government manages to pass the bill without Congress support, it would be a signal to the main opposition party that it could do the same with GST. However, GST being a Constitution Amendment Bill, the government would prefer to get all parties on board.
Though the BJP’s numbers in Rajya Sabha have gone up marginally, it is still in a minority at 53 against 60 MPs of the Congress.