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Govt on GST backfoot only after Yashwant, Rahul offensives: Congress

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 30 October 2017, 20:27 IST
(Samir Jana/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

Amid mounting criticism against the Narendra Modi-led NDA government's hurried and miscalculated implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST), Congress on Monday claimed that the government has become much more amenable to the suggestions made by the Opposition ever since former finance minister Yashwant Sinha penned his criticism on it.

Emerging from a meeting with Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi on GST, Punjab Finance Minister and Congress leader, Manpreet Singh Badal said, “I must confess that there was a certain amount of arrogance with the government when we had made these demands at Hyderabad and in subsequent meetings of the GST Council. But ever since Mr Yashwant Sinha wrote the article and the groundswell of opinion against the present form of GST, they (the government), are a lot more amenable to our suggestions.”

Citing Sunday's incident wherein the Group of Ministers (GoM) backed the suggestion of lowering taxes for restaurants and manufacturers to 1% under the composition scheme, Badal claimed that these factors, along with Gujarat elections, have forced the government to incorporate such changes.

On the menu

The next meeting of GST Council is in Guwahati and Congress is planning to raise three specific issues with a hope of government paying heeds to their demands.

“Specifically, we have raised the issue of compliance wherein small and medium enterprises and single unit job workers have been brought in the tax net. They were previously exempted. We want tax exemption for workers in cycle industry, textiles, leather, gems and jewellery and other such businesses,” said Badal.

He went on to add that Congress would continue to push the government to bring down GST rate on specific items. “Third, of course, is the GST network, which is crashing very frequently and it take someone two hours to file a return. There are many issues, but these are the three specific issues we would be raising,” Badal added.

When asked whether Congress has given up on registering their protest with GST Council since most of its demands were not met, Badal added, “When you are trying to bring down a structure, it is not the first blow that will bring it down. It may be the 99th, but you cannot discount the first blow. So, we are on the job.”

Of torpedoes and an 'economy in tatters'

Earlier in the day, Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi held two meetings with party general secretaries and state in-charges to plan for the upcoming anniversary of demonetisation. He also held a separate meeting on GST which was attended by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former finance minister P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh, among others.

Rahul said that Badal had spoken during the meeting about how the Prime Minister had sunk India's economy by deploying two torpedoes - GST and demonetisation.

"While the economy was able to withstand the first torpedo of note ban it could not withstand the GST torpedo which led to economy in tatters," said Rahul.

Attacking Modi over his government's decision to celebrate demonetisation anniversary as an 'anti-black money day', the Congress Vice-president said that the Prime Minister is yet to accept that note ban was a disaster.

“I don't know what they are celebrating. 8 November is a sad day for India but the BJP said they will celebrate it as anti-black money day.,” he said, while requesting the Prime Minister to give up plans for holding such festivities for a decision that led to the death of more than 150 individuals.

“The Prime Minister has failed to understand the pain of country's poor considering note ban was an out and out disaster,” Rahul said. Meanwhile, he called GST a noble idea, but accused the government of tanking India's GDP and economic growth.

During the course of the meeting on GST, it was noted with grave concern that GST compliance in its present form have become impossible for shopkeepers, traders and businesses, wiping out their life’s earnings.

“Inherent flaws viz-a-viz excessive of goods of mass consumption have played havoc with the budget of ordinary housewives and common man. A government mired by utter confusion and everyday shifting of goalposts has made life even more complicated for the citizens and businesses,” said Congress' chief spokesperson RS Surjewala.

During the meeting, it was also decided that party's leadership, including Congress finance ministers, will espouse the pain and suffering of MSMEs, shopkeepers, traders, housewives and common man, both inside and outside GST Council. “Indian National Congress will not rest until a resolution of these issues is done by the BJP Government to the satisfaction of business and services,” Surjewala said.

Meanwhile, Surjewala added that former prime minister Manmohan Singh, during the meeting, said that the faulty design and architecture and complication of compliance has killed jobs and businesses. “Dr Singh said demonetisation was an organised plot and plunder while GST has ended up taking away livelihoods of ordinary people besides shutting down businesses.”

Surjewala also said that the Congress and other Opposition parties have decided that the common theme for the 8 November protest would be “bhugat raha hai desh (the country is suffering).” He said that protest marches and rallies would be held by Congress workers in every district and state headquarter which would expose the misdeeds of the ruling dispensation.

First published: 30 October 2017, 20:27 IST