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How Manmohan Singh’s advice helped form a consensus between BJP-Congress over GST bills in Rajya Sabha

India TV Politics Desk New Delhi 07 Apr 2017, 0:01:21
India TV Politics Desk

As the Upper House approved four GST-supporting bills today, a rare consensus between the government and the Congress was witnessed in the Rajya Sabha, thanks to  former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Congress, the main opposition party, heeded Manmohan Singh's advice and did not press amendments.

While Congress members Jairam Ramesh and Vivek Tankha did not press their amendments, their party colleague Subbarami Reddy was absent altogether from the House even though he had proposed amendments to a number of clauses. 

It was Ramesh who then spilled the beans. 

"Yesterday the former Prime Minister (Singh) advised me not the move the amendment because it will disturb the fine consensus that has been arrived in the GST Council. It is the former PM who told me that don't do this because it will send a wrong signal for a new federal framework," Ramesh said. 

"In deference to what the former PM said, in spite of the former PM being at the receiving end of the jibes of his successor including rain coat and what not, I think in view of the statesman-like approach that the former PM Manmohan Singh has advised me not to move this amendment," he added. 

The Central GST Bill, 2017; The Integrated GST Bill, 2017; The GST (Compensation to States) Bill, 2017; and The Union Territory GST Bill, 2017 were returned by the Rajya Sabha by a voice vote as all parties were on board. 

The ruling NDA is in a minority with only 74 seats in the 245-member House. 

Manmohan Singh hailed the passage of GST bills by Parliament and sought to play down the fact that it could not happen during his tenure, saying "let bygones be bygones". 

Ramesh said he was not moving this amendment at all in keeping with the spirit of consensus, to maintain the federal framework and to give respect to the GST council. 

Later, while not moving another amendment, Ramesh reiterated that it was the former prime minister who asked him not seek amendments in the matter. 

"It was Dr Manmohan Singh who advised me not to move it. I am just trying to highlight the difference between the former Prime Minister who is a statesman and the present Prime Minister who is a politician," Ramesh said. 

While Congress members did not move their amendments, their counterparts from the Trinamool Congress and the Left pressed their amendments, and Division of votes was sought on two amendments. 

After the passage of the bills, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley went up to Congress benches and shook hands with Manmohan Singh and other Congress leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad to thank them. 

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien also congratulated all members of the House for the "excellent debate" on the important legislation. 

Earlier, Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien, while moving his amendment and seeking a division, said all matters related to GST should pass through the Parliament. 

Jaitley asked O'Brien not to press for the division, saying if Parliament changes the tax rates approved by the GST Council, then state assemblies will also make changes. 

"The moment we set this practice, we can forget GST...Let us not unilaterally upset the federal arrangement. It will become difficult to implement," Jaitley said but O'Brien did not relent. 

The amendment was, however, negated overwhelmingly, with 113 voting against it and only 9 voting in favour. There were 9 abstentions.

Manmohan Singh hails GST passage 

Manmohan Singh hailed the passage of GST bills by Parliament and observed that the new indirect tax regime could be a "game-changer", he, however, cautioned that there could be "difficulties" in its implementation. 

He pressed for constructive cooperation between the Centre and the states in resolving outstanding issues. 

"There will be pitfalls. But we learn as we go along," he told reporters after Parliament approved four GST-supporting legislations, clearing the decks for the rollout of the historic indirect tax regime from July 1. 

Asked whether he felt disappointed that it could not happen during his tenure, the former Prime Minister said, "well I think, let bygones be bygones." 

On whether the measure would help increase the GDP, he said, "it could be a game-changer but we should not assume that there will be no difficulties on the way. There must be a constructive spirit of cooperation between the federal government and the states to resolve the outstanding issues."

(With PTI inputs)