Govt close to cobbling up numbers, but GST vote set to be a cliffhanger

NEW DELHI: With just three days remaining for the budget session, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill, one of the big ticket reform moves the Narendra Modi government is keen to showcase on completion of one year in office, may go down to the wire in Rajya Sabha where the government is close to cobbling up the numbers but is wary of any disruptions that could jeopardise its plans.

As the government is set to bring the bill for passing on Monday, after Lok Sabha passed it last week, some of the opposition parties led by Congress, are keen to delay its passage by forcing a final vetting by Select Committee. If that happens, the bill will get delayed until the Monsoon session.

Meanwhile, government floor managers are working overtime to get the numbers. The bill’s passage was a smooth sail in Lok Sabha as the Constitutional amendment required two thirds majority of the members present and voting with at least half the total strength of the House in attendance.

The difference in numbers between the two sides on GST is narrow. But the fact that Congress-led opposition favours sending it to the Select Committee to score a political point by not allowing the government to have its way at a time of its choosing could spoil the works. FDI in insurance went through the same tortuous route.

After Friday’s disruptions as the opposition sought Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari’s resignation after the CAG report raised questions over Purti-Group-IREDA dealings, the government is apprehensive of similar tactic by rivals when the 244-member House sits next week.

Though the government is prepared for a situation where the bill may be sent to a Select Committee and return to the House in the monsoon session, the effort is to push it in the next three days. The two parties that the government managers are trying to persuade over the weekend are BSP which has 10 members in RS and DMK with four.

Of the 244, at least half of the members will have to be present. At present those who have committed support to the government add up to 116 votes, provided they are all present on the day of voting, while those against add up to 82. The undecided 29 could be the crucial. There are also seven independent members in the House who can vote and could either way, while there are 10 nominated members, many of who are likely to vote with Congress. Among the undecided lot, the Left with its 10 MPs for instance are not opposed to the concept of GST, but want two amendments to the present Bill and could hence opt for the Select Committee option.

The arithmetic so far has not thrown up a clear picture, but the government has not given up hope as yet.

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