GST under a cloud as numbers elude NDA

Even like-minded parties like AIADMK and BJD are now joining hands with Congress to oppose the legislation


New Delhi: The plans of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to obtain parliamentary approval for the goods and services tax (GST) bill in the ongoing session may come unstuck, with opposition parties unwilling to come on board so far.
The Congress party had last week demanded that the bill be referred to a standing committee. The problem for the government is that even like-minded parties including the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) are now joining hands with the Congress.
If the opposition holds firm, it will deal a severe blow to the NDA’s reform agenda and defer the rollout of GST next April. GST, considered the single most important tax reform, proposes to economically unify the country and provide a more efficient indirect tax regime.
The legislation, since it is a constitutional amendment, will need to be approved by a two-third majority in both Houses of Parliament and will need to be ratified by 50% of state legislative assemblies to take effect.
“Senior leaders of the government including (finance minister) Arun Jaitley have spoken to us. They are in touch with our senior leaders in the Rajya Sabha. However, even as they reach out to us, the Congress party is still of the opinion that the bill should be sent to the standing committee,” a senior Congress leader and member of the Rajya Sabha said.
In a move to end the deadlock in Parliament over the bill, Jaitley has taken upon himself to hold talks with opposition parties to bridge the differences. The opposition is adamant that the legislation be sent to a parliamentary committee to review the recent amendments.
“We have repeatedly told the government that we want the bill to be sent to standing committee. We are firm on our demand,” saidBhartruhari Mahtab, a senior leader of the BJD. Members of the AIADMK are also adamant that the bill must be referred to a standing committee.
Jaitley had moved the constitution amendment bill for the implementation of GST for discussion and passage in the Lok Sabha on Friday. While most of the opposition parties wanted the bill to be sent to the standing committee, the Congress staged a walkout.
However, there is some respite for the NDA because West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress has extended conditional support. Senior Trinamool Congress leaders pointed out that the party had categorically said in its manifesto that it will implement GST.
The real test for the government is in the Rajya Sabha, where it needs a two-thirds majority to clear the constitutional amendment. The government needs 163 members of Parliament (MPs) in the Rajya Sabha out of the total 245 to support the legislation. However, the NDA, along with conditional support of the Trinamool Congress, has 73 MPs in the Rajya Sabha.
“States feel that they will lose out on advantages when GST gets rolled out because many of them rely on differential taxes. However, more importantly, this is merely a posturing by opposition parties which are completely cornered. They are trying to make it difficult for the government,” Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst, said.
Mrug added that this could lead to a “minor delay”, but will not affect the reform narrative of the government in the long term. “Even if the bill gets sent to the standing committee, they can come back with recommendations in three-four months. If the government has enough will, it can still go ahead with it,” he added.

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