NATIONAL

Opposition stalling pro-poor laws: PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a frontal attack on the Opposition on Thursday, stressing that by disrupting the functioning of Parliament, the Opposition was not just blocking the passage of the long-pending Goods and Services Tax Bill that, he stressed, would be decided “in consultation with everybody”, but also pro-poor laws.

Mr. Modi’s speech comes in the wake of the controversy over the National Herald case and accusations that the Congress that was coming round to backing the GST Bill after the government’s overtures would now block it.

The Prime Minister, who was addressing the Jagran Forum of the Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran , pointed out that since Parliament was not functioning, another law intended for the poor — to enhance the bonus amount of the poor in jobs from Rs. 3,500 to Rs. 7,000 — was hanging fire as well.

“This also seeks to increase the salary ceiling for giving bonuses from the existing Rs. 7,000 to Rs. 21,000. Is this not directly a work for the poor?” he asked.

Taking a swipe at the Congress, which has disrupted both Houses of Parliament over the National Herald case this week, Mr. Modi said democracy could not be restricted to elections and governments alone and that one of the two main dangers before it was Mantantra (functioning as per one’s whims and fancies) with the other being “Dhantantra” (money power). “The country does not run on this basis. Whatever you may think, but the system does not run like this.”

Congress’s stance

Meanwhile, senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram on Thursday sought to de-link the party’s stand on the GST with the National Herald case. The Congress was, in fact, “waiting with an open mind” for the government to get back to it with formulations on the concerns over the reform party president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had raised on November 27 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“This is a link made by the government … This is a link selectively placed in the media ... There is no link,” Mr. Chidambaram told The Hindu in an exclusive interview a day after he participated in a high-level meeting at 10 Janpath in which Congress leaders led by Ms. Gandhi and Dr. Singh thrashed out the party’s strategy on the two issues.

Mr. Chidambaram said the government-appointed committee headed by Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian seems to have broadly endorsed in its recommendations the concerns of the Congress, particularly on the 1% additional tax that was proposed and also on the revenue neutral rate for the GST, and was, therefore, indeed a step forward.

The decision taken on Wednesday at the 10 Janpath meeting was that if the government sends any formulations, the Congress would examine them with an open mind, he said.

If the GST issue still stands where it stood at the meeting called by Prime Minister Modi, it was because the government was yet to send its revised formulations to the Congress based on the deliberations between the two sides, he said. “I can tell you based on my conversations with the Congress president and the vice-president we are waiting for the government’s formulations …. The government is strengthened now by the CEA’s report, let the government formulate its position on the three issues and send it to the Congress.”

‘A step forward’

In the report, he said, he found no clear recommendation on how the government should respond to the Congress with formulations on the said three issues. “It is quite possible that he has left that to the government … Therefore, while the CEA’s report is indeed a step forward, we would like to know the government’s formulations based on the report.”

On Friday, a panel headed by Dr. Subramanian submitted a report to the government in which it backed three of the main demands of the Congress on the GST. The panel, however, did not favour putting in the Constitutional Amendment Bill the rate of GST, which remains a potential spoiler over which the government will now have to negotiate with the Congress. Confirming this, Mr. Chidambaram said: “We are very clear that there is great merit in capping the rates in the Constitution.”

When asked why the provision was not a part of the Congress version of the Constitution Amendment Bill, meant for the introduction of the GST, Mr. Chidambaram said that these were evolving positions and nothing was cast in stone. “Has the BJP’s position say two and half years ago not evolved,” he said.

On November 27, in a bid to ensure that the Bill clears Parliament in the current session so as to meet the April 1, 2016, target deadline for roll out of the GST, Prime Minister Modi held talks with Ms. Gandhi and Dr. Singh. This was after, over a set of three broad demands, the Congress had not allow it to be taken up for passage during the monsoon session in the Rajya Sabha, where the government is dependent on its support for the two-thirds majority required to pass it.

The effort at reaching a consensus on the GST, however, hit a roadblock after the Congress decided to disrupt Parliament over the National Herald case. Mr. Chidambaram, however, dismissed any link between the two issues as also the suggestion that the Congress would not get any support on its stand in Parliament.

(With inputs from agencies)