New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government's effort to evolve a consensus on the Goods and Services Tax Bill appears to be yielding positive results with Congress reportedly signaling support to it and the Centre accepting its demand for a debate in Rajya Sabha.
According to media reports, the BJP and the main opposition party Congress have decided to engage in further consultations over the long pending tax reform and the parliamentary affairs ministry planning a five-hour debate in Rajya Sabha. However, the date has not been finalised as yet.
After the government expressed hope for a consensus and narrowing of differences with Congress, PM Narendra Modi on Monday told the BJP parliamentary party executive that efforts should be made to reach out to other parties as well.
The agreement to have a debate and the demand of regional parties to be consulted itself seemed to suggest progress, considering that the differences looked irreconcilable not long ago.
The PM's remarks came after Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal complained that the bill was becoming a bilateral affair between BJP and Congress and warned that his party could stall the legislation.
Sources also claimed that there was a possibility of Congress striking a compromise with the Centre on the passing of GST bill after a series of meetings held between its senior leaders and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley over the same.
In addition to the meetings between Jaitly and the Leader of the Opposition, Ghulam Nabi Azad, and Anand Sharma, the Prime Minister also took the initiative to break the ice with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday morning.
PM Modi walked up to her in the Lok Sabha and chatted amiably with her for a couple of minutes. Many believe that one of the main reasons for the breakdown in relations between the two parties is the total lack of communication between the Gandhi family and Modi.
Though the Congress chief refused to divulge what transpired and deflected queries saying it was " purely an exchange of pleasantries," some Congress leaders claimed that efforts are on to work out a compromise on the GST.
"The government has to come back to us with its proposal, once they do that we will consider it " says Jyotiraditya Scindia Lok Sabha MP.
The Congress wants the government to do away with the one percent tax on the inter-state movement of goods, because in its view it will create disruptions.
The government has indicated its willingness to let go of this and compensate the manufacturing states. The Congress also wants an independent dispute settlement mechanism, the government is flexible on this issue.
However, the sticking point is the Congress party's demand to put a cap on the GST tax rate in the Constitution. The government believes making this a part of the Constitution will make it difficult for the states to levy taxes to meet any exigencies. The differences on these issues have narrowed down considerable and both sides appear a lot more amenable to reach a compromise.
During the meeting between the Finance Minister and the Congress leaders, the broad contours of a possible compromise were worked out. The government is in the process of drafting the details of the proposed amendments after which it will formally approach the Congress party.