Government strategists are trying to ensure that the requisite 16 of the 31 states ratify the Bill by the end of this month
Senior Union ministers have advised to as many as nine Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled states to call special sessions of their legislative assemblies to ratify the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Constitution amendment Bill by the end of this month.
The Lok Sabha is slated to debate the Bill on Monday, a discussion in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will intervene. Barring a tweet when the Rajya Sabha passed the Bill on Wednesday, the PM is yet to comment on the proposed legislation. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has been critical of the PM’s absence during the debate in the Upper House, terming it “Modi mukt Parliament”.
After the Lok Sabha’s approval, the Bill will be sent for presidential reference. The government plans to transmit the Bill to states by August 10. Government strategists are trying to ensure that the requisite 16 of the 31 states ratify the Bill by the end of this month.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu and others have already spoken to nearly a dozen chief ministers of BJP as well as those of regional parties to call special sessions for this purpose.
Maharashtra Assembly’s monsoon session ended on Friday. According to sources, Centre suggested Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis that the session should not be prorogued but only adjourned sine die. This will allow the BJP-Shiv Sena government to recommend to the state Governor to call a sitting at short notice. Once a session is prorogued, the Governor has to notify the special session, at least 14 to 21 days in advance.
Other than Maharashtra, both Goa and Assam have ongoing sessions that end on August 12. A senior minister has advised the chief ministers to extend the session by a couple of days. This means, Goa and Assam might become the first two states to ratify the Bill.
Of the non-BJP ruled states, Naidu has also reached out to Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu. The Telugu Desam Party is an ally of the BJP. Of the Opposition-ruled states, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has already promised Jaitley that his council of ministers would ask the Governor to call a special session to ratify the Bill.
Meanwhile, the PM will be in Hyderabad to attend a function hosted by Telangana CM K Chandresekhar Rao, another state that might hold a special session soon. West Bengal has already called for a special session from August 26 to 28 to approve a Bill seeking change the name of the state. It could take up the ratification of the GST Bill. State assemblies need to ratify a Constitution amendment by a simple majority.
Once ratified by half the states, the Bill would go to the President for his assent. This will initiate the process to set up the GST Council, which, in turn, will help the finance ministry to draft the Central GST and Integrated GST Bills, which would then be approved by the Union Cabinet and sent to Parliament.
The government on Friday secured a moral victory in the Rajya Sabha over the question of a Bill being categorised a Money Bill. After a long debate on a private members’ Bill to demand a special package for Andhra Pradesh, Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien ruled that the Rajya Sabha, according to the Constitution and Rules of Procedures of the House, has no power to take a call on the subject. He referred the issue to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
Earlier, Jaitley pointed to Articles 110 and 117 of the Constitution and Rule 186 (7) of procedural rules that the Andhra Pradesh Bill was a Money Bill as it talked of a special package for the state, and that only the Speaker can decide on the matter. Congress member Kapil Sibal said that by this logic nearly every Bill can be termed a Money Bill since all legislations have some impact on the Consolidated Fund of India. He said the trend will reduce the Rajya Sabha to a “cipher”. Talking to reporters, Sibal accused Jaitley of “spin doctoring” constitutional provisions at the behest of the PM.
The Congress and other parties have objected to government plans to bring CGST and IGST as money Bills in the winter session of Parliament. Jaitley on Thursday made it clear that there was no ambiguity in the Constitution that Bills which expressly talk of impact on the Consolidate Fund of India “shall” be deemed money Bills. The Rajya Sabha cannot vote on a money Bill.