West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra’s understanding of the implications of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) steps, both politically and also for the industry, will help the NDA government in creating a consensus on contentious issues. It also improves the chances of getting the GST Bill passed in Parliament.
Though prime minister Narendra Modi and his 21-month old government may be lacking in the adept handling of several crucial issues, including the ‘intolerance’ debate, it has been fairly successful in putting the right people at the right places to drive reforms in an effective manner.
Top level appointments in the government and also the regulatory bodies have taken time, but the selections have been non-controversial and judicious.
The election of West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra on Friday as the new chairman of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is another example of this change.
At a time when GST Bill is stuck in Parliament due to the Congress opposition and NDA’s lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha, Mitra’s selection could prove to be a masterstroke in getting the Bill through and making the GST a reality quickly.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s failure to garner support from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Parliament from the very beginning has cost the party dearly in terms of handling of the reform Bills, and Mitra’s appointment may change the scenario.
In any case, all other opposition parties barring Congress are supporting the GST, and TMC leader being the chief of the empowered committee now means added pressure on the Congress party to soften its stance on the changes that it is demanding in the GST Bill, including fixing the GST rate below 18% in the Bill itself.
It is not surprising, therefore, union minister of state for finance, Jayant Sinha expressed hope immediately after Mitra’s election that the GST Bill will be passed in the Budget session of Parliament beginning February 23.
The West Bengal finance minister has taken over from Kerala finance minister KM Mani, who had to resign in November last year due to the corruption charges.
Interestingly, Mitra is the second chairman of the empowered committee from West Bengal. Earlier, during the UPA government’s tenure, Asim Dasgupta of the CPI-M, handled the job quite effectively.
Mitra is also expected to drive the GST exercise in a big way, considering his extensive engagement with the industry as secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, prior to joining politics in 2011.