Reform bills bring government at Congress’s doorstep

New Delhi, Jan 7 (IANS) Eager to get major reform bills on GST and real estate passed by parliament as early as possible, the government on Thursday yet again tried to garner support of the Congress with Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu meeting Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh.

“Met Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh over Goods and Services Tax (GST) issue. They had raised some issues which have been addressed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley,” Naidu told media persons after the meeting.

“The Congress president assured to get back after holding internal discussion with her party leaders on the issues,” he added.

Sources said that during the meeting, Naidu told the Congress leaders that the government was ready to advance the Budget Session of parliament if the opposition party comes on board and other parties agree to it.

Naidu also conveyed the government’s views on the concerns raised by the Congress on the GST, the sources said.

The Congress, however, blamed the Swadeshi Jagran Manch — an economic wing of the Sangh Parivar — and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for the deadlock in passage of the GST Bill.

“There were talks on GST today (Thursday). Venkaiah ji went to meet Mrs. (Sonia) Gandhi today. Our position on GST has been very clear. Even (Finance Minister) Arun Jaitley has agreed with us on that. That it is better not to have a GST than a flawed GST. Even his chief economic advisor has agreed to our suggestions,” Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal told media persons later in the day.

“Then what is the problem? Recently, Jaitley ji said that the sinking Congress strength in the Rajya Sabha will make the GST happen. They are not willing to compromise,” he said.

“And I will tell you the reason. The reality is that the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the RSS are against it. But Jaitley ji blames the Congress,” he added.

Sibal accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of not willing to accommodate the Congress’s point of view on the GST Bill, saying that they would meet the party leaders but won’t give any assurance.

“These are all ‘optics’ that Venkaiah Naidu went to meet Sonia ji for, they had talks on GST. Have they given (any) assurance on the proposals we had given? Now they are saying we are blocking the passage of the bill. But why they were opposed to it when we were in power? We are not opposing it, we are only asking them to accept our demands,” Sibal added.

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

BJP sources said Naidu sought the Congress’s cooperation on the Real Estate bill too, saying the government has already accepted most of the recommendations of parliament’s Select Committee.

Both the bills could not be passed during the winter Session of parliament due to disruption of proceedings over various issues.

The GST bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in May 2015. The bill is stuck in the Rajya Sabha, where the government does not have a majority.

Jaitley had recently hoped that the GST bill will be passed during parliament’s budget session beginning next month.

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