TMC likely to protest treatment meted out by the Centre to non-BJP states.
HOURS BEFORE the special West Bengal Assembly session was to begin earlier this week, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee instructed her government to put the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Constitutional Amendment Bill on the back burner “until further notice”.
The GST ratification in the West Bengal Assembly, initially scheduled for Monday, was dropped from the agenda after Mamata reportedly received a series of notifications from the Union government, in what the Trinamool Congress believed was an attempt to push non-BJP states to a corner to ensure their speedy compliance.
After the meeting of the Business Advisory Committee of the Assembly last Friday, state government chief whip Nirmal Ghosh said, “We are not taking up the resolution on the GST Bill for discussion during the special session because of time constraints.”
Mamata added: “This session was only for a day, and it had a packed agenda.”
A senior Trinamool leader said that while this doesn’t mean that Mamata is fundamentally opposed to the GST, she is likely to protest against the “treatment meted out to non-BJP state governments”.
Though the move would not derail the Centre’s plan to get 16 states to ratify the amendment, it is likely to make its task of managing consensus on the design of GST difficult. With negotiations slated to begin on crucial matters, including the GST rate, the Trinamool is likely to play hardball to ensure that its demands are met.
Trinamool’s key demands include the compensation states would receive. In his speech in the Rajya Sabha in August, party MP Derek O’Brien had said: “The Centre owes my state dues worth Rs 6,500 crore. Not only my state, it also owes Odisha Rs 3,000 crore. Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Telangana all have outstanding dues… because of GST.” The other concerns of the party include the demand that businesses with less than Rs 1.5-crore turnover be kept out of the dual control and issues regarding GST registration and compliance.
A senior state finance ministry official said, “Trinamool has always been for the GST. After her victory (in Assembly polls earlier this year), Mamata Banerjee had said that in spite of the ideological differences with the BJP, she would support the Bill. But the Union government’s continuous arm-twisting in financial matters has now reached such a stage that it can’t be put under the blanket anymore.”
The arm-twisting in question referred to a series of events, with the latest being the unexpected arrival of seven ‘mid-level’ central officials at state secretariat Nabanna without any “official communication”. “They had come with the intention of integrating the state treasury with the Public Fund Management System (PFMS). But there had been no communication from anyone regarding the same. The CM was furious,” said an official.
In August, the Prime Minister’s Office had made it clear that it wanted to track down each rupee allocated by the Centre. It went on to set an October deadline for ministries to roll out PFMS — with a March 31, 2017 deadline for integrating different states and UTs.
Union Finance Secretary Ashok Lavasa was tasked with visiting different states to remove misgivings. But Mamata termed it as an intrusion into the state domain. “They have formed a PFMS, whose purpose is to track the state treasury. Why do they want to do that? They are trying to take control of an elected government,” she said.
Adding fuel to fire was a Central circular, saying that NITI Aayog was to “take up monitoring and evaluation of important centrally-sponsored schemes as there is a need to transit from monitoring expenditure to monitoring outcome”.