Congress, government to have more talks on GST

New Delhi, Dec 14 (IANS) The government and the opposition Congress on Monday decided to hold further discussions to clear the logjam over the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill, and on how to secure its passage in the winter session of parliament.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Vekaiah Naidu and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley met Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Jyotiraditya Scindia on the GST bill which is stuck in the Rajya Sabha as the government does not have majority in the house, sources said.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also joined the discussion later, they said.

The sources said that after the hour-long meeting over lunch, the two sides decided to continue talks.

They said the next round of discussions would be held in the presence of Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, who was not present during Monday’s meeting.

The Congress demands include a cap on the GST rate at 18 percent, deletion of the provision which allows imposition of 1 percent tax by additional levy and an independent dispute resolution mechanism.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reached out to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh last month to break the logjam over the bill.

The bill intends to simplify the indirect tax regime in the country and broaden the tax base thus resulting in better tax-compliance due to a robust IT infrastructure.

Senior Congress leaders decided to hold a second meeting with the government to arrive at a decision on the bill.

Sources said the government had also reached out to Congress leaders over telephone on the GST bill prior to the meeting between the two sides.

They said the issue had gone beyond technicalities and “gone more into political domain”.

Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma later told newspersons that the discussion over the GST bill was “informal” as Kharge was not present.

He said it was the first such reach out from the government to the leaders of opposition within parliament in the past 18 months.

Indicating that the party was in no hurry to lend its support to the GST bill, he said the bill was delayed by the BJP during the UPA government but the economy did not go into deep freeze.

He said the Congress conveyed to the government that Kharge was busy with local polls in Karanataka and it would be proper to have formal discussions after his return.

Answering a query, Sharma said he will have to find out when Kharge will return. The winter session of parliament will end on December 23.

Sharma also said functioning of parliament cannot be centred on one bill and all pending bills were important.

Meanwhile, Jaitley slammed the Congress for disrupting parliament, reminding it of the legacy of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

“Those who claim the legacy of Pandit ji must ask themselves the question, what kind of history are they making?” Jaitley said in a Facebook post.

“The current session of parliament is also threatened with a washout. The reasons for the washout keep changing by the hour,” he added.

Jaitley said the nation was waiting for parliament to discuss public issues, to legislate and approve a constitution amendment enabling GST.

“All this is being indefinitely delayed. The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we being fair to ourselves and this country?”

The minister said “Pandit Nehru had delivered a speech on the last day of the first Lok Sabha which is a must read for all of us”.

“All of us, if not always, at any rate from time to time, must have felt this high sense of responsibility and destiny to which we had been called. Whether we were worthy of it or not is another matter. We have functioned, therefore, during these five years not only on the edge of history but sometimes plunging into the processes of making history,” he quoted Nehru as saying.

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