Insisting on “ring fencing” of the GST rate, Congress today said it was “constructively engaged” with the government on the issue but wanted to prevent the executive from “tinkering” with the proposed tax reform.
“The Congress has insisted on a cap on the GST rate. We are very clear that there has to be a cap and there should not be any tinkering with that rate of GST. We will not leave it to the Executive or the Government of the day on its own to change that. That is why we have said it has to be firmly ring-fenced,” senior Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said.
He said the GST bill will bring about unprecedented, sweeping changes in the taxation structure and the manner in which indirect taxes like excise, service tax, sales tax or VAT are levied.
“We need to have clarity therefore about the levies of these taxes. The threshold which is acceptable to Indian economy, the consumer and the industry, that is why the Congress Party has insisted on capping it. We hope the government has registered a very legitimate demand of the Congress Party which has rich merit,” he said.
Noting that his party is “constructively engaged” with the government on the pending tax reform legislation, Sharma said, “Discussions with the government on the Bill are ongoing and we are waiting for the next meeting on the issue.
Government, on its part, was to reach their own internal decision about the nature of response on Congress’ concerns and demands.”
Sharma said the party will now wait for the next meeting which will be a formal consultation where the government would give a concrete response to take forward the matter.
A meeting is likely between Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma tomorrow. Sharma, however, said he was yet to hear from the government about the meeting.
Asked whether Congress was softening its stand on GST, he said, “Congress is inherently pragmatic” and that it had never said it would not support the Bill.
The Business Advisory Committee of Rajya Sabha today allotted five-and-a-half hours for discussion on the bill but it is yet to decide on the date.
Sharma accused the BJP of having opposed the GST Bill in the past due to its “partisan politics”. He also said the Modi government had been “non-engaged, confrontationist and arrogant” on the issue but Congress’ stand was “principled” and had “merit”.
“We have also said that unlike the present ruling dispensation–the BJP– which opposed it for partisan politics, the Congress’ opposition is principled and has rich merit on all the issues that we have raised. And that is why we are now engaged constructively,” he said.
“The government was non-engaged, confrontationist and arrogant. Instead of seeking our support, the PM and his senior colleagues were insulting and berating our leaders. Their attitude is changing,” he said.
Sharma said the government agreed to discuss the unrest in Kashmir, an issue of national importance, in Rajya Sabha on the first day and “this is good start for consensus building”.