New Delhi, Dec 12: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today ruled out including the GST rate in the Constitution Amendment Bill saying tariffs can’t be cast in stone. He said the Congress, which has opposed the GST Bill over three main demands, should accept the UPA Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s proposal for a GST Council or its appointed forum for resolving tax disputes, instead of its demand for a Supreme Court judge being the adjudicating authority.
Speaking at the Aaj Tak Agenda programme, Jaitley said the Congress was changing stance everyday as it believes none other than persons from one family have the right to rule the country. “Why don’t you say directly that we want to stall country’s progress. For the Congress, except one family, no one else can rule. This is the basic point,” he said. “Daily they change their stance.” Asked about his statements as opposition leader and Gujarat’s opposition to GST, he said he had never ever opposed the Goods and Services Tax regime that will replace all indirect taxes to create a unified market. (Also Read: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat doesn’t want GST to be passed: Congress leader R S Surjewala)
The UPA, which had in 2006 mooted the GST, had failed to build consensus amongst the states over issues like loss of revenue to manufacturing states like Tamil Nadu and Gujarat as the new regime was more a destination oriented tax. The NDA government, he said, has been able to bring about a consensus in the first six months.
On Congress demands for inclusion of a GST rate of 18 per cent in Constitution Amendment Bill, Jaitley said tax rates are not mentioned in Constitution anywhere in the world. “Are tariffs ever cast in stone. It happens nowhere in this world. You (Congress) are trying to impose an impossible condition.” On the party’s other demand of scrapping the powers to states to levy 1 per cent additional tax over and above the GST rate, he said the government will talk to manufacturing states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, which have been demanding such a levy.
Jaitley said the GST along with other reform measures will add 1-1.5 per cent to present year GDP growth rate of 7-7.5 per cent. “The country will grow fast if Congress supports and also if it does not”. Attacking the Congress for using imaginary excuses to block the GST, he said the party should clearly say if it wants to stall development of the country. “If you want to drag your feet on your own proposals, then why are you making all these false excuses that (Union Minister) V K Singh said that, Member of Parliament Virender Singh said that, and also citing ED’s some imaginary notice, that actually has not come.
“So tell us clearly that we want to stall this nation. No one else other than from one family has the right to rule this country,” he said. Jaitley said: “If that (1 per cent tax) is a deal breaker with regard to manufacturing states, we thought lets talk with them”. Incidentally, Finance Ministry’s chief economic advisor has recommended scrapping of the levy. “They said the revenue neutral rate should be 18 per cent. So the expert committee set up by us said that no it should be at 15 per cent. Now that 18 per cent argument is nowhere to be seen, now they are saying that 18 per cent has to be written in Constitution. Are tariffs ever written in the Constitution?,” he said.
Rejecting the Congress’ demand for Supreme Court adjudicating disputes between states, he challenged the party to present one state that wants its taxation powers to be given to the apex court. “What I have proposed to them is that Chidambaram had signed a proposal accepting that the disputes be addressed by the GST Council of the states and if it is not addressed even there, the Council itself will prepare a redressal mechanism,” he said.
Talking about economy, he said the government was lagging behind in meeting the disinvestment target of Rs 69,500 crore for the current fiscal as it did not want to commit a divesting when commodity prices and markets are at a low. Asked about government not going for privatisation of PSUs as done during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure, Jaitley said the Government has in past one-and-a-half years raised more than the cumulative disinvestment proceeds of five years between 1999-2004.
Aggressively pursuing privatisation of PSUs in the first NDA government had also led to controversies and loss of votes, he said when asked why the government was divesting small stakes and not outright sale. To a question who he rated as a better Prime Minister between Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, Jaitley said both are amongst the foremost leaders of the country. He parried further questions on with whom he enjoyed more working with.
Asked about high NPA levels in banks, Jaitley described the sector going through challenging times and said the problems of present day were a result of legacy issues like adhoc appointments and policy paralysis. The government, he said, is addressing the issues and has provided the capital to the banks as well we put in place a merit-based appointment system. The Finance Minister also said the government will leave no stone unturned to bring back overseas black money.