Row Over GST: Key Reform Measure in Trouble as Opposition Protests in Parliament

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Row Over GST: Key Reform Measure in Trouble as Opposition Protests in Parliament

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Opposition walked out of Lok Sabha in protest against government's move to hold a discussion on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill

New Delhi:  Opposition lawmakers, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, walked out of the Lok Sabha on Friday in protest against the government's move to hold a discussion on the Goods and Services Tax or GST bill that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tabled in Lower House.

The Congress-led Opposition wants the bill to be sent to a parliamentary panel called the standing committee for scrutiny of the changes made in it before the house debates and votes on it.

"The UPA must start supporting legislations that it itself introduced. You should be happy that the good work  was done by your government. I'm accepting that, complimenting you and taking it forward," said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley after he tabled the bill.

Sonia Gandhi reminded the Finance Minister that it was his party, the BJP, which had earlier opposed the bill.

The GST - which aims at replacing the country's complex array of duties with a much simpler tax regime - is keenly awaited by investors and so is key to the reforms agenda of the Modi government, which wants to push the bill through Parliament soon. It wanted a discussion today and on Monday, so that it could be passed the same day.

The Congress supports the bill, but wants to make the point that rules cannot be by-passed. The Congress' leader in the House Mallikarjun Kharge said, "Why don't we just disband standing committees."

The GST Constitutional Amendment Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Congress government in 2011, has lapsed and so the Modi government has had to come up with a fresh bill.

The bill amends the Constitution and so requires a two-thirds majority in both houses to vote for it, already has the consent of states, who are key stakeholders.

The BJP has a big majority in the Lok Sabha or Lower House and will not find it difficult to pass the bill in that House. But it is in a minority in the Upper House or Rajya Sabha and is struggling to pass key legislation in there.

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