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GST to be on ‘top priority': FM

Arun Jaitley speaks at  Columbia university

New York : Outlining the roadmap of the BJP-led government for the coming months, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be a “top priority” and he hopes to take the Bankruptcy Code to Parliament in the Winter session.

“Our roadmap for the coming months (is that) GST will be a top priority. My bankruptcy code is almost ready, hopefully I’ll take it to Parliament in the winter session,” he said addressing students and faculty at Columbia University here.

He said there are a large number of other legislative reforms which are required and he does not see much of a problem in their passage. “A lot of decisions have to be taken at the executive level,” he said yesterday.

On the GST, Jaitley said the Congress party did not allow passage of the legislature by causing disturbances in Parliament.

He said he carried forward the previous government’s initiative on the GST, which had been cleared in the Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha also the numbers were “on our side but by sheer disturbances the Congress party decided not to allow it”.

“This was more or less a political positioning rather than a serious ideological opposition because the Manmohan Singh government had initiated the idea of the GST,” he said.

He added that the legislative ability of the Congress Party is only to oppose a constitutional amendment.

“Indian aspirations are changing and therefore that opposition has been taken very badly as far as the electorate is concerned,” he said.

On measures taken for financial inclusion, Jaitley said the Mudra initiative is targeting six crore families in India.

The Finance minister said that to tackle the serious challenges faced by the banking sector, the government is focused on brining in more professional management and boards in the banks, keeping the banks at an arms-length distance from the government, bringing down government equity and recapitalisation of those banks.

He said by addressing “stress sectors” of steel, power and highways, the government hopes that the banking sector will soon start showing some improvement.

Outlining the challenges, he said the global situation is an important challenge as “global adversity is a factor beyond our control.”

Earlier the global crises used to come periodically but now “we have entered a phase where we are almost seeing them on a regular basis…. For us the newest normal now is to live in turbulence and volatility,” Jaitley said.

“The strength of an emerging economy and the challenges to it particularly will have to keep in mind that it is in this period of volatility and turmoil that you have to survive,” he said.

The minister said while significant changes have taken place in the country, there will be comments on how fast the whole change in the reform process can be, what steps are being taken, is there consistency in the direction of those steps and are the steps being taken in the right direction.

Jaitley noted that there are many factors globally which are impacting the country.

“The global slowdown is an important external factor that is impacting partly on our investments and significantly on our exports. What happened in China impacted on our currency and impacted on the stock markets. But we are a unique economy where many advantages have also taken place,” he said.

Jaitley said India is not a part of the Chinese supply chain and in that sense India has remain slightly disconnected with what is happening in the economic Asian giant.

He conceded that India had a fairly terrible reputation in matters of ease of doing business and “that has been the Prime Minister’s key emphasis” particularly on the quality of governance itself.

On financial inclusion, he said 180 million bank accounts have been opened for the weaker sections of the society.

Jaitley said the scheme was started with 78 per cent cent as zero balance accounts and today it has come down to less than 40 per cent. “By the end of the year, I hope it will be somewhere in its 20s,” he added.

He said that a large part of the tenure of the previous government was wasted in how natural resources are to be allocated. “Now we have a very cleaner system of allocation of natural resources,” he said.

He said the Prime Minister’s “charisma” and “decision making ability”, combined with the power of the Indian diaspora is collectively creating the India impact the world over.

“It is not merely the charisma of his (Narendra Modi’s) personality, of course it is a big asset for us, his leadership and decision making ability is a very important asset for us,” he said.

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