NEW DELHI: Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, junior minister for parliamentary affairs, looked worried. Fishing out hisiPhone from the pocket of his kurta, he read a message and turned to officials to ask, “It should be ready on time?”
The officials nodded. This reporter hung around, certain he would be privy soon to some BJP strategy for the Goods and Services Tax Bill, which finally comes to the Rajya Sabha today for debate and passing.
“There should be both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes,” the minister instructed, returning the mobile phone to the pocket, before another thought struck him.
Many lawmakers, he mused, would like to leave as soon as the bill is passed. Or would prefer a quick bite. “Hmm, can we also have some packed food,” the minister said, adding that food must also be arranged for the staff of the Rajya Sabha.
The government’s meticulous preparations for the GST bill today include dinner as the Upper House will be working till late in the evening. The GST debate begins at 2 pm and has been allotted five hours of discussion time, during which representatives of all parties big and small will seek to speak. The discussion could spill over into extra time.
Amendments will then be voted upon and that is expected to take another hour or so.
The government believes it is heading into the crucial day with every detail in place. Negotiations with political parties ended on Monday evening with the Congress – which has stalled the reform for months after the Lok Sabha passed it – finally green flagging GST.
The Left has said its support depends on the government keeping its promises on key provisions of the bill.
Tamil Nadu party DMK has indicated that it will support the bill, but will watch what arch rival AIADMK does today. Tamil Nadu as a manufacturing state faces losses from GST, which earns revenue for consumption. The Centre has promised to compensate such states for five years for revenue loss.
The AIADMK is playing its cards close, but has signalled it could walk out, which will help the government.
So GST Wednesday has dawned with the prospect of 31 of 32 parties in Rajya Sabha supporting the bill and none opposing it.