Jaitley meets Congress leaders on GST

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Signalling a thaw in positions on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, Union Ministers and Congress leaders met on Friday and declared that efforts were on to forge consensus ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar met Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and his deputy Anand Sharma, significantly in Mr. Azad’s office in Parliament. They agreed to meet again after the monsoon session started.

“We are trying to build consensus on the GST [Bill]. We have discussed all the points. Once the session starts, we will meet again after discussing the issue within our parties,” Mr. Jaitley said after the meeting.

Goal is consensus

Government sources said the fact that the meeting had been held at Mr. Azad’s office and not at Mr. Kumar’s or Mr. Jaitley’s was “a measure of the government’s sincerity in pursuing consensus on the GST.”

Mr. Azad said the two sides had an “in-depth” discussion. “We put forth our apprehensions and suggestions. We will get back to our leadership and they will get back to their leadership and then we will meet again,” he said.

The next meeting is expected to be held early next week as this session has only 20 working days.

Mr. Sharma, a former Commerce Minister, had said earlier in the week that the Congress was open to a “ring-fencing” on the issue of a cap on the GST rate at 18 per cent. The party had earlier said it opposed the Constitution Amendment Bill on three counts: One per cent levy in favour of manufacturing States, a more representative grievance redress mechanism and the necessity of an 18 per cent cap to be mentioned in the Constitution Amendment Bill.

Of these, the government says it is ready to compromise on the first two issues. Government sources hinted that mentioning a cap in the Central GST Bill, an enabling legislation to the main Constitution Amendment Bill, could be offered as an option, but the Congress has made no commitment.

While the Congress appeared to be co-operating on at least meeting the government half way on the GST, Mr. Sharma was clear that “constructive engagement between the government of the day and the Opposition as a whole cannot be limited or made conditional upon passage or non-passage of one Bill.”

The government on Thursday reached out to the Congress, with Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu calling up Mr. Azad and Mr. Sharma to seek the Congress’s backing for the Bill.