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Congress set to promise single rate GST

By Archis Mohan
December 26, 2018 11:20 IST
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Simpler GST structure will be key poll plank, Congress sources tell Archis Mohan.

Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, left, and Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh (retd) with Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Photograph: PTI Photo

IMAGE: Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, left, and Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh (retd) with Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Photograph: PTI Photo

A revamped goods and services tax will be a part of the Congress manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

A Congress-led government at the Centre in 2019 would launch a comprehensive redesign of the current GST, party leaders said on Tuesday, December 25.

"The current design of the GST has defects and is flawed to the extent that mere tinkering is not the solution. The Congress government at the Centre in 2019 will bring the next generation of GST," Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, addressing a press conference at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi, said.


Sources in the Congress's manifesto drafting committee said a revamped simpler GST with a single tax rate would be a key election plank of the Congress for the 2019 polls, along with reducing agrarian distress and suggesting ways to create jobs for the youth.

The Punjab finance minister said the current GST has had over a thousand changes and was like a kurta full of patchwork.

"Instead of putting more patches, it is time the tailor stitches a new kurta," Badal said.

However, Badal rejected speculation that the Congress favoured scrapping GST altogether as Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed did after winning the election in his country earlier this year on the back of promising jettisoning the GST.

"Farming is no longer feasible with the help of bullocks. A tractor is essential for ploughing the field, and so is GST necessary. The Congress would not sacrifice GST, which is our brainchild, to gain some cheap publicity during the election campaign. We would not sacrifice GST for a win in 2019 polls," Badal said.

Party sources said a Congress-led government would be willing to amend the Constitution to get India a GST 2.0.

"However, that might not be necessary. I believe the GST Council is empowered enough to carry out the amendments needed to correct the flaws," said Congress spokesperson on economic affairs Gourav Vallabh.

The Congress's GST version 2.0 would correct the major flaws of the current architecture of the tax by making it simpler, rectify the distortion in tax rates, provide for 'manual inputs', consult stakeholders and improve the technology network.

Badal said the Congress also wanted petrol and electricity to come under the ambit of the GST. The Bharatiya Janata Party, he said, is spreading misinformation that Congress finance ministers opposed the move to lower taxes.

"These have been all Congress suggestions in the earlier GST meetings. These are now part of the minutes of the GST Council meetings. The BJP agreed to lower taxes because of the Gujarat assembly polls (in December 2017), and is now nervous after its recent assembly poll losses," Badal said.

The Congress, Badal said, had demanded tax rationalisation for the textile sector, which is a labour-intensive sector and creates jobs; increase the composition limit for the MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises), exempt job work in various industries, including bicycle industry, from the GST.

The government, Badal said, needed to check evasion of GST. Flawed GST, he added, had caused a drop of 2% in India's GDP.

The Congress favoured a single rate GST or a maximum of two rates, Badal said.

Badal, who leads the Congress's state finance ministers at GST Council meetings, complained that the Centre circulated the agenda of the meeting late on the eve of the meeting and early morning, which prevented state finance ministers of non-National Democratic Alliance state governments from doing a scrutiny of the agenda.

According to Badal, Finance Union Minister Arun Jaitley told Congress state finance ministers that he was a democrat and agreed that the position of the vice-chairperson at the GST Council should go to the Congress. A decision on this is likely at the next GST Council meeting.

Congress leaders ridiculed the change in the Narendra Damodardas Modi government's position on a single GST rate.

On his blog on Monday, Jaitley stated that 'the country should eventually have a GST which will have only slabs of zero, 5 per cent and standard rate with luxury and sin goods as an exception.'

On Tuesday, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted: 'Climate change: BM (bluff master) NaMo on July 1, 2018: How can Mercedes and milk be taxed at same rate? BM (Blog mantri) Jaitley on December 24, 2018: India must work towards a single rate GST.'

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Archis Mohan
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