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EPISODE – XV
TOPIC: Blocking The Way
BLOG: THE INDIAN EXPRESS
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MEANINGS are given in BOLD and ITALIC
The winter session of the Parliament began with much riding on it after the near washout of the monsoon session derailed (by diverting from its intended course) the legislative agenda of the NDA government. The key pending reform is the Goods and Services Tax bill.
The GST would subsume all indirect taxes, unify the country as a single market, make it easier to do business, reduce black money, and rationalise exemptions (the action of freeing or the state of being free from any obligation or liability imposed on others) that account for 2.5 per cent of the GDP. Two initiatives by the government demonstrated that it was willing to walk the extra mile to usher (show or guide someone or somewhere) in the most ambitious indirect tax reform in the country. One, it agreed to the opposition demand of a discussion on the floor of the House on the intolerance issue.
Two, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, reached out to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to iron out the remaining creases in the GST law. The Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014 enabling GST is stuck in the Rajya Sabha, where the government does not enjoy a majority, after it was passed in the Lok Sabha last session. Last week, the recommendations of a panel led by Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, further raised hopes of a breakthrough on GST. But statements by senior Congress leaders over the weekend suggest that the party is determined to continue playing obstructionist (deliberant interference) politics.
Before the session started there were three unresolved issues. The Congress objected to the imposition (force on someone) of 1 per cent inter-state levy. Two, it asked for a cap of 18 per cent for the GST rate in the Constitution. Three, it had a problem with the provision of a council of states, instead of judicial appellate body, to arbitrate (reach an authoritative judgement or settlement) over possible disputes. The CEA-led panel has recommended giving up the 1 per cent levy, and if accepted, this addresses the Congress demand. The constitutional cap is a patently absurd (wildly unreasonable, illogical) suggestion that will actually hurt the economy, as it will severely constrain (compel or force to follow a particular action) any Central government’s ability to respond to demands for greater revenue collection at a later date. The third demand is best addressed through political consensus (a general agreement).
Barring the Congress, opposition parties are veering (veer means to change direction suddenly) towards agreement on the GST bill, even if all issues are not settled to each political party’s satisfaction. Already, the BJD, NCP, JD-U and BSP have declared their unequivocal (equivocal means open to more than one interpretation) support for GST and have criticised the Congress for blocking the legislation. Yet, the Congress remains recalcitrant (having an obstinately uncooperative attitude towards authority or discipline ), saying such important legislation “cannot be rushed through” and insisting that it “cannot give a timeline” for a reform that was initiated, incidentally, by its own regime (time period), and is already late by six years. The Congress should realise that its obstructionism on the GST not only hurts the economy but also isolates (separates or divides) the party politically.
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