"Are we ready," he asked about the July 1 deadline for GST. "There is serious doubt about the country's preparedness," he said. Not just that, he questioned taxes proposed on several items, including books and regional cinema.
"The fight is on against taxes on books, cinema, newsprint, raw cashew, plastic and rubber footwear, sale of electricity," he said, adding "all these are used by the common man."
Dr Mitra has raised these issues before. But he did so today with Trinamool secretary general and parliamentary affairs and education minister by his side, defending him.
"The opposition and some circles are saying Dr Mitra is to blame for the high taxes," said Partha Chatterjee. "But it is the GST council that is taking all the decisions. We have one voice in that council. Many are speaking in a different voice. But till the policies are made pro-people, we will continue our fight," he added.
Labelling the GST Council decisions "cunning and smart", Mr Chatterjee said, "They are trying to hurt the interests of the state. Mamata Banerjee had fully backed GST for the benefit of the people."
As an example of "cunning", they cited the human hair industry. Dr Mitra said around 10 lakh people in Bengal made a living from cleaning and treating human hair to make wigs.
"GST Council wanted to tax human hair, we opposed it, they said, ok, no tax on human hair but tax on bleached, dressed products," Dr Mitra said. So tax, indirectly.
Perhaps as education minister, Mr Chatterjee was particularly exercised about the proposed tax on all books other than text books.
"In this state, we read books, write books. They want to stop the habit. They are saying, you don't have to read books. Instead of a pen, pick up the sword. This is unprecedented," he exclaimed.
Dr Mitra was at pains to explain that he had been appointed chairman of the Empowered Committee and tasked to find consensus on the GST bill.
The tax rates were being fixed by the GST Council headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. "In that council of 33 members, I have one vote, one voice only," Dr Mitra said.
He also listed a number of items that he had managed to get exempted from tax. Those include food grains, vegetables, 'chana' or cottage cheese used in Bengal to make sweets, muri, chirey, khoi - rice products widely consumed in Bengal and dhoti, saree, sindoor, bindi, newsprint, health services.
"People have to tell Mr Jaitley what I have said. I have given you details. The union finance minister has to now take a call on preparedness," Dr Mitra said.