Members of parliament, they said, could not be expected to check government websites at midnight. That was in response to junior Minister for Parliamentary Affairs SS Ahluwalia pointing out that the bills were uploaded on the government's website at midnight on Friday. The presentation of the GST bills, opposition leaders argued, should have been discussed at a meeting last week of the Lok Sabha's Business Advisory Committee, which plans the house's schedule.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan dismissed the opposition's objections, pointing out that copies of the draft bills were sent to all members of the Lok Sabha on Saturday morning and they had enough time to go through them before these were presented today for a discussion and the house's sign-off.
The BJP-led central government is already missing an April 1 deadline to launch GST and wants to ensure it meets the new one - July 1. To do that it must secure Parliament's nod for the four bills presented today in the current budget session, which ends on April 12. A fifth bill must also be approved by state assemblies before the new tax system can be rolled out.
Mr Jaitley has emphasised that the bills must be passed in the current session of parliament; the centre and states will lose their right to collect indirect taxes after September 15, he has said. The four bills that he presented today are the Central GST bill, the Integrated GST bill, the Union Territory GST bill and the Compensation Law bill. A fifth bill must also be approved by state assemblies before the new tax system can be rolled out.
GST will consist of a four-tier tax structure of 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent, though there will be a provision to set the peak rate at 40 per cent to deal with any financial emergencies.
The Goods and Services Tax Council, made up of state finance ministers and headed by Mr Jaitley, had approved the supporting bills earlier this month and the union cabinet cleared them last week.
After the Lok Sabha has debated and passed the bills, they will go to the Rajya Sabha, where the government is in a minority and important bills are often stalled by opposition parties. But the GST bills have been presented as "money bills" and any changes suggested by the upper house will be taken back to the Lok Sabha, which can choose to accept or ignore them.
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