Govt mulls two-day Parliament session in september, to get GST Bill passed


NEW DELHI: The government is sounding out political parties over scheduling a two-day session of Parliament in September ahead of the Bihar elections to pass the Goods and Services Tax Bill, seen to be a crucial piece of tax reform linked to the Modi government’s effort to improve ease of business and boost revenues.

Indicating the thinking in government, finance minister Arun Jaitley told the media that the Cabinet committee on political affairs on Thursday chose not to prorogue Parliament, keeping the door open for both Houses to meet at short notice before the winter session begins in November.

The Cabinet panel discussed the options before the government and it was felt that a session could be convened if there was sufficient support from non-Congress parties in Rajya Sabha where the NDA does not have a majority and needs the backing of two-thirds of members present and voting as GST is a constitutional amendment.

If the numbers total up, Parliament could be called even if the Congress does not alter its decision to disrupt proceedings as it did in the monsoon session. “If the Congress still opposes and disrupts, it can only be further isolated and exposed as obstructionist,” goes the thinking in the BJP which has now launched a full-scale campaign to accuse Congress of hindering growth by obstructing GST and other legislations.

The strategy has its risks as NDA will need to ensure that almost all non-Congress parties support the GST bill and a final decision is still to be taken.

Jaitley said early consideration of the GST Bill was necessary as the law needs to be ratified by 50% of state assemblies and further passage of three enabling legislations, one by the Centre and others by states.

In view of the procedures, including approvals by state assemblies, delay in Parliament passing the bill will almost certainly impact the proposed rollout of the tax reform by next year. “I would clearly say we are determined and it would be our endeavour to roll out GST from April 1, 2016,” Jaitley said.

The government seems to be counting on support for GST from almost all major political parties including AIADMK, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal and even the Left to push the law. “The Left parties supported the bill in Lok Sabha,” Jaitley said.

Senior ministers have begun speaking to leaders from these and other parties seeking to know if they are amenable to the proposal to call a session of Parliament.

The problem for the government lies in Rajya Sabha, where Congress commands 68 MPs. Even though the government claims it can get numerical backing with the support of non-NDA parties, the GST bill is a constitutional amendment that requires order in the House at the time of voting.

It remains unclear whether Congress will reconsider its obstructionist tactics if a special session for the GST bill is to be convened, given the tense and bitter note on which the monsoon session has ended.Jaitley responded to criticism that the government has not been able to reach out to the main opposition by stating that Rajya Sabha was the principal roadblock. “Lok Sabha did conduct some business and could have done some more. Those who argue we did not do enough do not see the numbers in Rajya Sabha,” he said.He refuted the charge of the government not doing enough to resolve the logjam by recalling that Congress had declared that it would not let the two Houses run until Sushma Swaraj resigned as foreign minister.

Even though Jaitley said Rajya Sabha numbers wenot static, Congress’s adamant stance is clearly a hurdle for the Modi government. Congress protests have ensured the upper House has barely been able to function for more than a few minutes on most days of the monsoon session.



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