GST may be delayed further as parties get poll-ready

The government announced the schedule of Parliament’s Budget session on Thursday with a hope of getting crucial Bills related to goods and services tax, bankruptcy, and real estate regulation cleared. But the Opposition parties appeared unrelenting as the session coincides with the elections in five states — West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry.

At the India Investment Summit on Thursday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley expressed hope that the Opposition will “see reason” to ensure the passage of the goods and services tax (GST) constitution amendment Bill in the coming session. Jaitley said a joint committee of Parliament, which is examining the details of the bankruptcy and insolvency Bill, is expected to submit its report by the first week of March and the Bill might be passed in the Budget session itself.
However, until and unless either of the two sides bows down for the sake of legislative reforms, the upcoming session might be unproductive like the previous two because the Opposition commands a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) on Thursday met to finalise the dates for the presentation of the Railway Budget (February 25), tabling of the Economic Survey (February 26) and presentation of the General Budget (February 29). The President’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament will be on February 23, the first day of the session. The first part of the session will end on March 16, with over a month-long recess from March 17 to April 24. The Houses will meet again from April 25 to May 13. In total, the session meant for financial business of the government will see 31 sittings over 81 days.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said he was optimistic that GST, real estate regulation, and bankruptcy Bills will be passed during the session.

He claimed to be in touch with the Congress and other “friendly” Opposition parties. He said the government has already discussed the three points of disagreement on GST with the Congress. Naidu had met Congress President Sonia Gandhi after the Winter session in early January.

However, sources in Congress said there has been no effort by the government to build bridges after the Winter session washout. The imposition of President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh is a sore point with the Congress. Also, all Opposition parties are preparing to corner the government on its “insensitive response” to the death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi had visited the Hyderabad Central University twice to express solidarity with the protesting students. The Congress and other opposition parties also complain of the government’s “misuse” of investigative agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate.

Senior ministers met leaders of all political parties to explore whether there was any demand to curtail the session in view of the forthcoming state polls. The five states are scheduled to vote for a new government between the first week of April and first week of May. Both sides were unanimous in their support for a full session. Several members of the Parliament will be busy campaigning for the state polls and their attendance in the House is likely to be intermittent. In 2011, the month-long Budget session recess had been done away with because of the elections in these states. The then government had decided not to send the Finance Bill to the Standing Committees. The recess is the time given to department-related standing committees to examine the Budget proposals of different ministries and departments.

The assembly election dates are likely to be announced by first week of March. Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief and Rajya Sabha MP Sitaram Yechury said every year government should come out with a calendar of Parliament sittings so that there is no confusion. “The Election Commission will then decide the dates for elections knowing when Parliament is sitting. The Prime Minister will also know about the sittings and will remain in the House and not be abroad,” Yechury said.

 

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