Goods and services tax (GST) is seen as the single-biggest tax reform since India’s Independence, and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley says it can help raise the country’s gross domestic product by one to two percentage points. But the indirect tax regime has been stuck in the works for long.
The constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill for implementation of GST, often referred to as the GST Bill, was initially introduced and cleared in the Lok Sabha on December 19, 2014. But it remains to be passed by the Rajya Sabha to date. Subsequent to the Lok Sabha okay, the Bill was referred to a select committee of Parliament, and certain tweaks were made to the Bill based on the committee’s recommendation.
The revised Bill, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, towards the end of Parliament’s monsoon session, could not be cleared as the Opposition, mainly the Congress party, continued to protest and disrupt functioning of the House, demanding resignations of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and two chief ministers — Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan) and Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh) — for their alleged involvement in the Lalitgate and Vyapam controversies.
Jaitley accused the Congress of stalling the country’s progress by not allowing key reform legislation, including GST, be passed.
What is GST all about and why is the Congress opposing it in the Rajya Sabha, when it has already indicated that it is not particularly against the Bill? Here’s a quick look at the various aspects of the Bill which may decide its future course.
What does the Bill envisage?
GST aims to create a uniform system of taxation by subsuming all indirect taxes, such as the central excise duty, countervailing duty, service tax, state value-added tax (VAT), luxury tax, entry tax, octroi, etc, under one umbrella. It also proposes to address challenges with the current indirect tax regime by broadening the tax base, eliminating cascading of taxes, increasing compliance, and reducing economic distortions caused by inter-state variations in taxes.
What if the Bill becomes a law?
Who will decide the rates?
The GST Council will recommend rates of tax, period of levy of additional tax, principles of supply, special provisions to certain states, etc. The council will consist of the Union finance minister, Union minister of state for revenue, and state finance ministers.
Why is the Congress opposing it in the Rajya Sabha?
The argument of the Congress and the Left parties is that before introducing the Bill, the views of the select committee of Parliament that discussed the Bill and contributed several dissent notes should have been considered. This was not done and the government went ahead and introduced the Bill amid confusion on the floor of the House.
Why is the Govt unable to pass it in the Rajya Sabha?
The Bill proposes to amend the Constitution for enabling introduction of the tax, so two-thirds of both Houses must approve it. The government and its allies are in a minority in the Upper House and need the support of Opposition parties. In the Budget session, the Lok Sabha — where the government has a huge majority — had passed the GST Bill, but it was sent to a committee for review by the Rajya Sabha. Now, the Lok Sabha will have to again pass the amended Bill if the Rajya Sabha clears it during the winter session. Now, all that the government can hope for are better numbers in the coming Bihar Assembly polls so that its position in the Rajya Sabha is strengthened, probably in 2016.
What if the Bill is not passed even during the winter session?
A failure to get Parliament’s approval to the GST Bill in the winter session as well will make it hard for the government to meet the deadline to roll out the regime from April 1, 2016. It will also impact the Centres’ much-talked-about ‘Make in India’ programme.