The chances of the much needed Goods and Services Tax Bill getting Parliament's nod even in the ongoing monsoon session appear remote. Session after Parliament session, the Congress has opposed it on one pretext or the other. One had believed that the principal opposition party will support the crucial Bill in this session. However, the voices being raised from its leaders shatter that belief.
The GST Bill, officially known as The Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014, should be treated by all political parties as the most important legislation that India needs at this juncture. The GST will replace a plethora of tariffs imposed by the Centre and different states. It aims at streamlining the tax system.
The Centre wishes to implement it from April 2017. But the Congress seems hell bent on delaying its implementation on one excuse or the other.
Some political parties may be justified in raising specific objections related to the Bill per se. For instance, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa feels the GST will impact the state's autonomy on its finances. The AIADMK-ruled southern state wants the Centre to compensate for all of its revenue loss. BSP supremo Mayawati has pledged her party's support to the GST Bill in the Rajya Sabha but with "some suggestions".
The Congress, which is the single largest party in the Upper House, too wants the government to address these three issues in the Bill - scrap the proposed 1 per cent additional entry tax to compensate the manufacturing states for possible loss of revenue; set up an independent dispute resolution mechanism headed by a retired judge; and fix a cap of 18 per cent on the tax that can be levied and include this in the Constitution Amendment Bill.
The government has indicated that it is willing to accommodate the first two demands. But the Congress perhaps has other designs.
It is the main opposition party in the Lok Sabha and the single largest party in the Rajya Sabha created unprecedented pandemonium in the last winter session to scuttle the chances of the Bill to be taken up in Parliament. The alibi was the Patiala House court summoning Sonia and Rahul in the National Herald alleged cheating case. More or less the same scene was witnessed when to came to taking up the Bill during the budget session.
The government was all set to ensure its passage in the ongoing monsoon session but, again, the Congress is at it.
Regrettably, the Congress' main demands are political. And they are not related to the GST Bill.
|Opposition members protest in front of Rajya Sabha deputy chairman PJ Kurien during the monsoon session of Parliament. Photo: PTI|
The Congress is not willing to support the Narendra Modi government in Rajya Sabha because of two reasons - the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which deals with financial crimes, on July 22 booked former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, officials of the Associated Journal Limited (AJL), publisher of the National Herald newspaper, and others on charges of alleged money laundering; and disruption of proceedings in the Rajya Sabha on July 22 over a private member's Bill seeking amendment of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act which sought to grant special status to the state.
The Congress leaders are now pledging to scuttle GST just because their party chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul are facing trial in the National Herald case.
Sample these statements from senior Congress leaders:
"I don't think the Prime Minister and his government are sincere about any constructive cooperation. They are continuing on a path of political targeting, vendetta and consultations. And in this vitiated environment, there is no cooperation possible between the Congress and the government," Congress deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma told The Sunday Express.
Without referring to Hooda or the National Herald case, he further said, "You can't just abuse authority and misuse agencies like ED and CBI virtually on a daily basis to target Congress former chief ministers and leaders and expect the Congress to meekly submit. This is a political fight. And the government will get it back in full measure."
The Congress has, unfortunately, given primacy even to the special status to Andhra Pradesh than the GST.
Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh categorically stated that his party would not cooperate with the treasury benches till the matter of special status was ironed out.
"It looks like the GST Bill may have to wait till the next Budget Session," said a senior Congress leader, according to The Hindu.
One would only wish wisdom dawns upon the "grand old party" of India and it treats national interest above individuals or party.