GST Bill passed in Lok Sabha
GST Bill passed in Lok Sabha
May 7, 2015

After the Lok Sabha cleared the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill on Wednesday, all eyes are on the Rajya Sabha which poses the real test because the government does not have a majority there.

The Bill is likely to come up in the upper House on Thursday. Because of an intense outreach effort by the government, there are good chances that it will clear the Rajya Sabha as well.

Parliamentary managers of the ruling coalition have taken heart from the fact that the principal opposition Congress did not oppose the Bill but merely walked out, enabling the government, with its majority in the lower House and with help from alliance partners, to meet the two conditions to pass a Constitution amendment Bill - that at least half the members of the House must be present and two-thirds of those should vote for the Bill.

The government will need all the allies it can get in the Rajya Sabha, where it does not have the numbers. Parties such as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) which moved amendments seeming to oppose the Bill withdrew them bowing to the Lok Sabha's reality: unquestionable majority of the government. Whether they will do the same in the Rajya Sabha where it is possible to embarrass the government is uncertain.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu told reporters that he had spoken to Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who in turn had promised to speak to Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Naidu said the government was in touch with all those who had proposed amendments to the Bill and later withdrawn them - like the BJD - to address their reservations.

The government also reached out in other ways. The real estate Bill was referred to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha, bowing to an Opposition demand in a give-and-take negotiation.

Naidu stressed, both inside and outside the House, how the treasury benches accorded Congress President Sonia Gandhi due respect when she attacked the government over its failure to fill important posts in the Central Vigilance Commission and Lokpal. At current reckoning, only the Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) are opposing the Bill and seeking reference to a parliamentary committee.

The government has already made a case that if the matter is referred to such a committee, India will not be able to keep to its deadline of April 2016 to roll out GST. It says in that situation the states will be penalised for no fault of theirs.

The Opposition is, however, keeping its cards close to its chest. Internally, the Congress party is clear that if it gets a chance, it would like to refer the Bill to a parliamentary committee, if for nothing else, then just to teach the government a lesson. However, it cannot do so until it also embarks on an outreach.

Indications are that it has left it too late. Prospective allies such as the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal United have already been contacted and corralled by the ruling coalition. The Left parties have said publicly in the Lok Sabha that they are not opposed to the Bill; they just want some changes brought in it. They are unlikely to change their position in the Rajya Sabha.

Of 245 members in the Rajya Sabha, at least 124 have to present in the House. To reach this number, the government will have to make sure all those who supported the Bill in the lower House, including the Trinamool Congress, the Left parties and others, will be present at the time of voting. At least 83, that is two-thirds, MPs need to vote in favour. The government is confident it can reach this number.

Anand Sharma, Congress Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, told Business Standard that his party has made its position to the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha clear that it wants the GST Bill to be referred to a Rajya Sabha select committee for scrutiny. Congress sources rejected the view that the party, by walking out in the Lok Sabha, helped the government. They said the party doesn't have the numbers in the Lok Sabha, but Rajya Sabha will be a different story with the support of the Left parties and the two Tamil Nadu parties.

The government is hopeful that the Congress will come around to supporting the Bill. The Modi government plans to tout the passage of the GST constitutional amendment Bill as one of its big achievements at the completion of its first anniversary later this month. 

Source :  Business Standard

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