GST set for midnight launch amid boycott by Congress, friends

Jun 30, 2017, 09:00 IST | IANS

Arun Jaitley
Arun Jaitley

The stage is all set for the rollout of the major indirect tax reform measure - Goods and Services Tax (GST) - in Parliament's Central Hall on Friday night amid boycott by the Congress, the Trinamool and other opposition parties even as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley urged them to reconsider their decision.

The launch will take place at the stroke of midnight after speeches by President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the presence of Vice President Hamid Ansari, MPs, Chief Ministers and state Finance Ministers besides a host of industralists and legal luminaries.

The hour-long event seeks to evoke memories of the "Tryst with Destiny" moment of 1947 when first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made his famous speech to mark India's independence. After deliberations on Thursday, the Congress announced a boycott of the function, saying the government was seeking to "trivalise" the freedom movement and to garner publicity.

The party said such a midnight function in the Central Hall of Parliament had occurred only thrice - August 15, 1947, when the country attained independence, and in 1972 and 1997 to mark the silver and golden jubilees of attaining freedom. With the Congress boycott, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was invited to be on the dias, won't attend.

Congress allies including the Rashtriya Janata Dal and DMK also announced they will skip the event while the Left parties have left it to individual members to decide. The JD-U, which broke ranks with the opposition on the President's election, will register its presence with Bihar Energy Minister. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will not attend and Janata Dal-United MPs are free to attend or keep away.

Reacting to the opposition decision, Jaitley said they should display broad shoulders and own up to the consensus decision to usher in GST after a 15-year consultation process. "I can say this without fear of contradiction that there has never been such exercise of this kind of political consultation and political consensus in bringing the GST. And now those who have been a party to this consultation and decision making process must also accept," he told reporters here on Thursday.

"I hope every political party will reconsider and revisit its decisions and be a party to the launch of a massive reform to which they have been themselves privy to," he added. "Symbolic boycotts are not evidence of any kind of disassociation from these decisions... The government believes this is probably the single most important taxation reform in the last 70 years. I am sure it will prove beneficial both to the economy and the country," Jaitley said.

GST, termed as the most radical tax reform since Independence, seeks to subsume all central indirect taxes like excise duty, countervailing duty and service tax as also state levies like Value Added Tax, entry tax and luxury tax to create a single, pan-India market.

So far, apart from Jammu and Kashmir, all the states have passed the State GST (SGST) law. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has written to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to join the GST regime by July 1. GST was first discussed in the Kelkar Task Force report on indirect taxes in 2003 and a proposal to introduce a national GST by April 1, 2010 was first mooted in the Budget Speech for the financial year 2006-07.

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