Govt-Cong standoff casts shadow on GST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday met Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is also the Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha, to discuss the government’s parliamentary strategy in the wake of the standoff with the Congress, which has cast a shadow on the goods and services tax (GST) constitutional amendment Bill in the ongoing Monsoon session of Parliament.

Junior ministers, however, indicated that the government — both on the compensatory afforestation Bill as well as GST Bill — might galvanise the regional parties in its favour and isolate the Congress in the Upper House. Both the Bills are currently pending in the Rajya Sabha, where the government is in minority. However, such a strategy is unlikely to work out smoothly, given the opposition’s unity in the first week of the session. Government strategists also said that none of the senior Congress leaders, particularly Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, was available on Monday and they will reach out to Congress leadership on Tuesday. Azad and senior Congress leaders were busy with the party’s Uttar Pradesh campaign.

On Monday, the Congress didn’t let Rajya Sabha transact any legislative business and the House could not take up the compensatory afforestation Bill. The Congress accused the government of scuttling on Friday, along with ally Shiromani Akali Dal, a private member’s Bill by Congress MP K V P Ramachandra Rao to demand special package for Andhra Pradesh.

Congress threatened to not let the House function until the Bill was discussed. “What happened on Friday was by design. It was planned by the government to disrupt the proceedings,” Congress deputy leader Anand Sharma said. Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said the Bill can now only be taken up on August 5. Fridays are reserved for discussing private members’ Bills and resolutions.

Congress received support from Samajwadi Party and the Left parties, and was also hopeful of support from BJP ally Telugu Desam Party. A vote on the Bill, as and when it’s taken up, could embarrass the government. However, government strategists maintained that Rao’s Bill was a ‘Money Bill’ and hence it could only be taken up in the Lok Sabha.

In further souring of relations, the Akalis moved a privilege notice against Congress members Jairam Ramesh and Renuka Chowdhury to the Rajya Sabha Chairman for allegedly misbehaving with Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal during the proceedings on Friday.

Congress leaders insisted that they would oppose the Bill on compensatory afforestation in its current form as it was inconsistent with the Forest Rights Act and bypasses Gram Sabhas. However, Congress leaders also asserted that the party would not block GST Bill. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said it was the government which was unwilling to pass the GST as it was apprehensive of the inflationary pressures in the immediate aftermath of the tax reform’s passage.

But Minister of State for Finance Arjun Ram Meghwal claimed the government was working overtime to build a consensus on GST. He even said a consensus is likely to be reached on at least two of the three demands put forth by the Congress. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will meet the state finance ministers on Tuesday.

Meghwal said state governments run by regional parties — Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh — supported the GST Bill. “We are trying to pass the GST Bill in Monsoon session of Parliament,” he said. The Monsoon session ends on August 12.

In a similar vein, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi accused the Congress of being unfair to the states by blocking the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Bill, which would release Rs 42,000 crore to states, including Rs 2,023 crore to Andhra Pradesh. Meanwhile, Lok Sabha Speaker constituted a committee to look into the alleged indiscipline by Aam Aadmi Party MP Bhagwant Mann. The Lok Sabha also passed a Bill providing for opening of six new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) at Tirupati, Palakkad, Goa, Dharwar, Bhilai and Jammu.

Govt-Cong standoff casts shadow on GST

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