Keen on getting the much delayed GST bill approved by Parliament in second half of the Budget Session beginning next month, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said he will reach out to the Congress again to persuade it to support the legislation.
“Left to myself, I will continue till the last moment to persuade the Congress,” he said in an interview.
The Goods and Services Tax bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in May last year and is pending ratification by the Rajya Sabha or Upper House, where the ruling NDA does not have a majority. Congress is opposing the bill in current form and demanding that a cap on GST rate be included in the Constitution Amendment Bill.
“I am in agreement with them that the taxation rate must be reasonable. I also agree with the spirit of suggestion that it should not go beyond 18 per cent. I have no difficulty with that,” Mr. Jaitley said.
But the tax rate cannot be prescribed in the Constitution Amendment Bill, he said. “There is only a difficulty about prescribing tax in the Constitution because you never know unforeseen emergencies. Therefore the Congress will have to see the reasonableness of this particular view.”
The GST Bill, India’s biggest indirect tax reform since independence, seeks to replace a slew of central and state levies, transforming the nation of 1.3 billion people into a customs union.
After it is approved by the Rajya Sabha, the legislation needs to be ratified by half of the 29 states so as to roll out GST possibly by October 1.
Asked if the government would reach out to Congress again, the Finance Minister said, “We discuss with them frequently. I will again be speaking to them.”
The government, Mr. Jaitley said, had the numbers in Rajya Sabha to get the Bill through after considering support of non-NDA parties like TMC and BJD for the legislation.
“Numbers are in our favour but my preference is to do it with consensus because after all it is states which also have to implement this,” he said.
The Bill was not intended to be brought in the first half of the Budget Session and it was targeted for second half beginning April 25. he said. “I would prefer to do it in the Parliament as soon as possible.”
Asked if traders, who have been traditionally supporting BJP, were opposed to the GST regime, he said, all trade and business organisations want GST because they want simplification of tax.
“They don’t want ten different departments to visit them and I think their concern is a valid one. You must have taxation system which is simple, which is hassle free and ultimately a trader does not gain by evasion because taxes are normally passed on to consumer. And as far as BJP is concerned there is unequivocal support as far as GST is concerned,” he said.