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GST only a question of time, obstruction won’t continue: FM

Launch of eSahyog and Pan camps

New Delhi :  Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said introduction of the goods and services tax (GST), which will replace more than a dozen state levies, is only “a question of time” as obstruction to the reform measure will not stand parliamentary vote.

He said he is open to meeting Congress leaders to resolve a parliamentary deadlock over the biggest reform measure in over two decades.

“I think GST is only a question of time since obstruction won’t continue indefinitely. As and when it is put to vote, I see GST becoming a reality,” he said at the National Strategy Day on India, jointly organized by the World Economic Forum and CII.

GST, which will subsume more than a dozen state levies to create a single market, is to be implemented from April 1, 2016. But a Constitution Amendment Bill could not go through the Rajya Sabha in the last session of Parliament due to opposition from the Congress.

The April 1 deadline may be missed if Parliament does not pass the Bill in the upcoming winter session.

Once the Bill is passed, more than half of the states have to ratify it before Parliament passes another enabling bill to implement GST.

“I have both the supporting legislations that we need to implement GST in readiness. I also have the IT backbone in readiness. So, the moment the Upper House passes it, we can get 50 per cent of states to ratify it and be in a position to put it in motion,” Jaitley said.

Regretting the Congress opposition to the GST Bill, the Finance Minister said he has been discussing the issue with a number of Congress members.

“Am I willing to discuss with the Congress party? I have repeatedly said I am,” he clarified. “I have so far been discussing it with their leaders and I can’t find at least conceptual opposition to it. I will once again speak to them and try to make them see reason.”

Jaitley said the government had the numbers on its side even in the Rajya Sabha in the last session of Parliament, but the Congress chose to disrupt the proceedings rather than put the Bill to vote.

“And I say with a sense of regret that there was a policy somersault as far as the Congress is concerned and regrettably, it was led by the people who had moved the GST Bill. And this policy somersault was not for any policy reason. It was for political reason because the policy seems to be obstructive,” he said.

Going forward, Jaitley sounded optimistic. “As and when the Bill is put to vote, it certainly would be approved because I am quite confident we have the numbers on our side. In any case, within months from now, the numbers in the Upper House are going to tilt a lot more and therefore, that makes it a lot easier for us.”

The Finance Minister said considerable headway has been made on GST — the Parliamentary Standing Committee had recommended it and the Lower House (Lok Sabha) passed it by a two-third majority.

“Almost all state governments are on board. And I must say even the state governments of the Congress party have supported it. The Chairman of Empowered Committee (on GST) is Kerala Finance Minister,” he said.

The Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha had also approved the Bill. “Therefore, a national consensus has been built. The trading community in India, the industry, the business and the popular opinion all support the Bill,” he added.

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