Govt keeps GST hopes alive, may call special session of Parliament


NDA leaders protest against UPA leaders for disrupting parliamentary proceedings on the last day of monsoon session, in New Delhi. (Sushil Kumar/HT Photo)

The government kept hopes alive for the passage of the country’s biggest tax reform, the goods and services tax (GST) bill, with top sources saying it may try to convene the second half of Parliament’s monsoon session around August 24 after an all-out effort to bring the Congress on board.

The government took a calibrated decision on Thursday to not prorogue the monsoon session where it failed to transact much business due to Opposition disruptions, sources said.

The government, however, has an uphill task to convince the Congress, the principal Opposition party, to help it pass the 122nd constitutional amendment to roll out the GST. The bitter acrimony between the BJP and the Congress had escalated to a new level over the latter’s demand for sacking foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and two BJP chief ministers mired in controversies.

Both Houses of Parliament were adjourned sine die on Thursday but finance minister Arun Jaitley declared that the cabinet committee on parliamentary affairs (CCPA) decided not to prorogue, or formally end, the session through a Presidential notification.

“The government will now have to convene another CCPA meet to decide on the dates and request the Speaker and Rajya Sabha chairman to re-convene the session,” said former Lok Sabha secretary-general S Sreedharan.

Another ex-SG of the Lok Sabha, TK Viswanathan, added that there was no need for any notice period to reconvene the session. “Generally, a 14-day notice is given for submitting questions from private members. But if the Speaker and chairman want, they can waive off the notice period.”

Jaitley said the government was determined to implement the GST from next April, hours after the monsoon session’s current schedule ended. “I can’t reveal our strategy. But we will definitely try to push the GST bill again,” Jaitley told the media. In a bid to woo the Congress that walked out of the House, the government did not try to push any legislative business in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.

When asked about attempts of regional parties like the NCP, Trinamool, JD(U), RJD and National Conference to form a federal front, Jaitley pointed out, “All these parties want the GST more eagerly than we do.”

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury told HT that his party doesn’t have any problems with a special session or an extension of the current session, but added, “The moot question on which the House failed to transact business in this session will remain relevant even in that session,” indicating that the Opposition may sustain pressure on the government to sack tainted ministers.

Further delay in the passage of the GST bill would cause many other processes linked to its roll-out to get postponed even further. The rates cannot be decided before the law is enacted.

The bill has not specified the rates, but empowers the GST council—a panel headed by the central finance minister and state counterparts—to fix the rates through a process of consultation. The council can be formed only after the bill is passed.

Also, in the absence of rates, the IT backbone needed for the new tax cannot be tested for glitches ahead of its roll-out.


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