Opposition rethink on forcing amendments to GST Bills in RS

Business Standard By Archis Mohan April 5, 2017. 20:22 IST

But it plans to stall NCBC constitution amendment to send message to Modi govt

Illustration: Ajay Mohanty

With an eye on forging opposition unity in Uttar Pradesh for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and to protest what it calls the Narendra Modi government's "dictatorial" attitude in pushing through key legislations as 'money Bills', the Congress party is likely to support regional parties to stall the passage of a key constitution amendment Bill.

But in a rethink, some within the Congress and regional parties are of the view that they should not subject the Goods and Services Tax (GST) related Bills to amendments in the Upper House. Last month, a united opposition had scored a symbolic victory by having the Rajya Sabha adopt five amendments to the Finance Bill, 2017.

However, the Lok Sabha had later rejected the amendments as the Finance Bill is a money Bill. The Rajya Sabha today started the discussion on the GST Bills, which is scheduled to be completed on Thursday. GST Bills are also money Bills and Lok Sabha will reject any amendments that Rajya Sabha adopts.

Meanwhile, the government today introduced the constitution amendment Bill to set up a National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) in the Lok Sabha. To consolidate its new support base among the backward castes, the Modi government is keen to ensure the passage of the NCBC constitution amendment Bill in the ongoing Budget session, which ends on April 12.

In the Rajya Sabha, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have unitedly protested when the union cabinet had approved proposal to give constitutional status to the NCBC. Both parties want the NCBC constitution Bill to be stalled, as they fear Modi-led BJP is nibbling into their respective support bases among OBCs.

A constitution amendment needs to be passed by both the Houses with a two-thirds majority of those present and voting. The government is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha and cannot ensure the passage of the NCBC without opposition support.

When the constitution amendment reaches the Rajya Sabha, the Congress, SP and BSP are likely to argue that the government effort is to take away the rights of the states to include or delete castes from the Other Backward Classes, or OBC, category, and that Rajya Sabha being the 'Council of States' should oppose this move.

The Congress strategists say that the party should stand with SP and BSP on the issue of NCBC in the interest of long term opposition unity. The opposition is likely to demand that the NCBC constitution amendment Bill be referred to a House select committee, and be taken up in the Monsoon session.

The Congress' opposition to the NCBC Bill, however, is largely symbolic. "Apart from the opposition unity, we want to convey to the government that it has broken the atmosphere of trust that was built during the passage of the GST constitution amendment Bill last year by pushing through key legislations as money Bills," Congress senior leader Anand Sharma said.

There is some dissonance within opposition ranks on the GST related Bills, which were taken up for discussion in the Rajya Sabha today. Apart from Sharma, Trinamool Congress' Derek O'Brien and others spoke on the Bill.

O'Brien said in the spirit of consensus the government should consider the amendment moved by Congress' Jairam Ramesh. The amendment argues that GST Council recommendations on fixing of tax rates should not bypass Parliament.

The Trinamool Congress, the Left parties and many within the Congress want to score a symbolic victory on the GST issue. But not all in the Congress are convinced about such a strategy. They argue that the party should support GST Bills to underline that the Congress-led UPA governments were the moving force behind GST.

Opposition leaders will meet on Thursday to decide upon their final strategy on GST.

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