With the government resolving to give a decisive push to theGST bill in Parliament this week, the winter session could witness a battle of wits in the Rajya Sabha from Monday, with both sides keen to have their say in passage of the key reform measure.
While the first two days of the current session passed off without any disruption starting with a discussion on the Constitution and its architect B R Ambedkar, the ruling and opposition benches repeatedly clashed over issues like Union Minister V K Singh’s controversial dog remark in the wake of the killing of two Dalit children in Haryana in an arson attack.
The legislative business transacted so far during the session has been limited to passage of merely two bills – Carriage by Air (Amendment) Bill, 2015 and The Bureau of Indian Standards Bill, 2015 in the Lok Sabha.
The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2015 was the lone bill to be introduced in the lower house, while no new legislation was introduced in the upper house.
Keen to carry forward economic reforms, the government has a heavy legislative agenda for both Houses from Monday which includes four more bills in the Lok Sabha, in addition to the two already listed, and seven in the Rajya Sabha where three bills are listed.
According to Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, GST Bill and the Real Estate Bill are on the list of Government Business in the Rajya Sabha during the week commencing Monday.
On the GST bill, the cat and mouse game between the government and the opposition mainly Congress, however, continues.
The Business Advisory Committee of Rajya Sabha has allotted four hours for the consideration and passage of the GST Bill.
Senior Congress leader and former Commerce minister Kamal Nath has said the government’s reluctance to accept an 18 per cent cap on the Goods and Services Tax, as demanded by the main opposition party, is a “sticking point” in resolving the impasse.
Pitching for the inclusion of a cap through a Constitution amendment, Nath said it is required to ensure that no changes are made into it by a simple majority in Parliament, and dismissed as “absurd” the government’s proposal to have a Council of States instead as the Disputes Redressal Mechanism.
While repeatedly insisting that GST was its own bill and that it was optimistic about its passage, Congress has also made it clear that it will not compromise on the demand for dropping the proposed one per cent additional levy to compensate the manufacturing states, contending it would negate the key objective of the GST.
In a significant development, a panel headed by Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian on Friday suggested 17-18 per cent GST rate and dropping of the one per cent additional tax on inter-state sales but opposed inclusion of GST rate in the Constitution.
Biju Janta Dal has also asked Congress to drop its demand for inclusion of GST rate in the Constitution. BJD, NCP, JD-U and BSP have declared in Parliament their unequivocal support to GST and some of them have also criticised Congress for “blocking” the legislation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also reached out to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh to resolve the matter, holding interactions with them on the GST issue over tea.
The 45-minute meeting at 7, Race Course Road last week did serve to break the ice between the government and the Congress but irritants remain.
Another demand of Congress is for having a dispute settlement mechanism in the bill. The UPA government’s original bill had proposed setting up of a GST Dispute Settlement Authority. It gave indications that it may agree for a “quasi judicial body”.
Chief Whip of Congress in Lok Sabha Jyotiraditya Scindia said the present GST bill does not represent the original bill brought by the UPA.
However, the government is confident that after support from the regional parties to the GST bill, Congress will also not stretch the issue too far as it would not like to be seen as blocking reform.
“The public mood is almost one-sided in favour of the GST,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu had said last week.
After an all party meet, he had claimed that of the total 32 parties represented there, 30 were in favour of the legislation and wanted its early passage.
However, it remains to be seen how the opposition parties respond when the bill comes before the House for discussion amid efforts by the Congress to present a picture of larger unity in opposition ranks on key issues.
Another key bill, which will keep the government engaged this week is the Real Estate Bill with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi having taken up the issue of home buyers in past.
Congress is pressing for some changes in the bill.
The Select Committee of Rajya Sabha has submitted its report on The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013. Congress had earlier given a dissent note, while parties like AIADMK and SP also had certain reservations.
The government has only two more weeks left in the winter session to push its legislative business and would want to ensure passage of the two bills this week itself.3