NEW DELHI: On the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the opposition “let’s work together” and said “it’s clear that everyone is the mood for productive debate” as his government goes for all-or-bust to push through the Goods and Services Tax or GST, a landmark reform.
Here are the 10 latest developments in this story:
- In a big breakthrough for the government, the Congress, which has been blocking the GST reform, has agreed to a five-hour debate on the proposal. No date has been set yet, but the agreement allows the bill to be introduced for consideration.
- The GST will replace a tangle of tariffs imposed by the Centre and different states. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has presented it as the most important tax reform in decades.
- Most parties have come around to supporting the bill, including regional heavyweights like Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. PM Modi met all members of his coalition government today and urged them to stress the benefits of the GST not just to the Congress, but to these parties, whose support will be crucial.
- The Congress, which drafted the proposal when it was last in power, remains non-committal on the negotiations with the government over specifics of the bill.
- The GST proposal has been approved by the Lok Sabha but has yet to be greenlit by the Rajya Sabha where the government is in a minority. With regional parties backing the reform, the Congress is likely to be outnumbered.
- Because of that, the Congress is expected to either cause disruptions in the House which would prevent the legislation from being taken up, or attack the government on recent political controversies.
- As part of its outreach, the government today agreed to the Congress’ pitch for a debate on the violence that has seared Kashmir since the killing earlier this month of 22-year-old Burhan Wani, a terrorist commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen. His death has led to massive and continuing clashes between civilians, young stone-throwing protesters, and security forces. Nearly 40 people have died, and 2,000 been injured.
- Tomorrow morning, Anand Sharma and Ghulab Nabi Azad of the Congress are scheduled to meet Finance Minister Arun Jaitley with directions from top leaders on both sides to negotiate compromises on the GST.
- The Congress wants the GST to be capped at 18 per cent, it wants the upper limit to be listed in the constitutional amendment that will usher in the reform, it wants the removal of proposed 1 per cent state levy, and it has called for a powerful council to settle disputes on revenue-sharing between states.
- The government has indicated it is willing to accommodate most of those changes. But it points out that specifying a tax rate in the constitutional amendment is inadvisable as that would require changing the constitution each time the rate is to be revised.