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GST debate in Lok Sabha: Five things to watch for

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-03-2017 Remya Nair

New Delhi: All eyes are on the Lok Sabha as it begins its debate on the last batch of legislations pertaining to the goods and services tax (GST). The plan is to debate, without a lunch recess, for six-seven hours and then press for a vote on the bills.

This seminal piece of tax reform aims to remove tariff barriers across states and integrate the country into a common market. This is the last legislative hurdle before GST’s implementation; to be sure, state assemblies too have to sign off on the laws.

Here are the five things to watch for:

The opposition’s stance:

The opposition has expressed concerns over the government’s attempt to push through all the four bills—the central GST bill, the integrated GST bill, the Union territory GST bill and GST (compensation to states) bill together after a single day’s debate and is likely to raise an objection.

Tabling of bills as money bills

The government’s move to table these pieces of legislation as money bills is also expected to come under criticism. Money bills need to be passed only by the Lok Sabha where the National Democratic Alliance is in a majority; the Rajya Sabha can only make recommendations which the Lok Sabha can choose to accept or reject.

Who will open the debate?

Finance minister Arun Jaitley is expected to move the bills for consideration and passage of the House. Congress leader Veerappa Moily is likely to lead the opposition’s charge. Rajiv Satav, Congress MP from Maharashtra, or Ranjeet Ranjan, Congress MP from Bihar, are likely to be the other speakers for the main opposition party, said Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Kerala. Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab is also expected to speak in the debate.

The perception battle

The opposition will be hard pressed to maintain a fine balance in opposing the way the government is hurrying through with the laws and at the same not be seen as opposing this historic tax reform.

The fine prints of the legislation

It will be interesting to see if the Congress opposes the clause which caps the peak tax rate effectively at 40% under GST (20% central GST+20% SGST). The Congress has long argued that the tax rate in GST should be capped at 18% in the legislation. But given that Congress ruled states are part of the GST council which gave its nod to these bills, the principal opposition party will have to walk a tightrope.

The stance of the Trinamool Congress will also be a key thing to watch out for. West Bengal finance minister has been vocal in the GST Council opposing some of the provisions in the bills like the powers of arrest provisions.

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