NEW DELHI: The passing away of former President APJ Abdul Kalam having interrupted an already disrupted Parliament, prospects of the GST bill’s passage are fast fading, a development that can delay the Modi government’s plans to roll out the key tax reform by as much as a year beyond the current April 2016 deadline.
Though the Cabinet on Wednesday cleared a revised GST bill that reflects the substantial consensus forged by the Rajya Sabha select committee which examined the legislation, there are strong doubts over its passage given turbulence in Parliament over ‘Lalitgate’ and Vyapam scandals.
When Parliament resumes on Thursday, it will have 11 days to conduct business before the monsoon session ends on August 13. But given Congress’s combative mood over demanding the resignations of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan chief ministers Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Vasundhara Raje, disruptions are likely to continue.
Leaving no room for doubt about the party’s intent, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala on Wednesday blamed “the obstinacy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in rejecting Congress’s valid suggestions” for undermining GST. Making plain its view that it was only paying BJP back in its own coin, Congress said UPA’s bid to pass the GST bill was undermined by an obstructionist BJP.
The possibility of any legislative work, that too a constitutional amendment like the GST bill which requires order in the House and a two-thirds majority, seems remote as Congress, along with the Left parties, is determined to stall Parliament irrespective of lack of support from other non-NDA parties like Trinamool, BJD, AIADMK and SP.
Though Congress and Left and fairly isolated in their opposition to the GST bill as well as on parliamentary tactics, the parties have stalled proceedings with Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary’s act of clambering onto a table to wave a placard before Speaker Sumitra Mahajan failing to attracting the mildest reprimand from the party brass.
Failure to pass the GST bill will mean the government will have to move its sights to April 2016, a significant setback as the law is closely meshed with other initiatives to reduce cost of business, encouraging new enterprises and creating a single market in India.
The reform is meant to be a showpiece of the Modi government’s commitment to improve India’s investment climate and bring about a unified approach to taxing goods and services by the Centre and the states.
Though Congress had sought the GST bill’s passage when in office, the party has decided to oppose the reform on the grounds that the NDA regime is bringing forward a piecemeal legislation. On the political side, the party is set on blockading Parliament, seeing in Lalitgate and Vyapam an opportunity to dent the government’s claim to corruption-free governance.
BJP managers feel that Congress’s strident opposition to the GST and land bills is rooted in the calculation that delaying these legislations will affect the credibility of the government and consequently slow down the pace of India’s economic recovery.
Proponents of GST argue that the reform’s objective of permitting the Centre to levy tax on goods and states to levy sales tax on services – currently barred by the Constitution – will boost India’s efforts to emerge as an economic power.
The Congress leadership is convinced that it is well within its rights to pay back BJP in its own coin for disruptions of Parliament during the UPA tenure over the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G scam and other issues like allegations of corruption in coal allocations and the Commonwealth Games.