Amid reports that the BJP is working with regional parties to isolate the Congress vis-a-vis the government’s pro-reform legislative strategies, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the NDA government has no intention to do so.
“My intention is not to isolate the Congress. The Goods and Sales Tax (GST) Bill is not a BJP bill. It was mooted by the Congress; The GST will help the country,” Jaitley told ‘Times Now’ in an interview.
Jaitley denied any trade-off between the government and regional parties like the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and AIADMK of J. Jayalalithaa and said that “GST is not a partisan issue”.
“There is no political trade-off. The understanding is if any state loses revenue the first five years the Centre will make it up,” Jaitley said.
Earlier, the minister said that virtually almost all states supported the bill.
The Lok Sabha cleared the GST Bill in May 2015 but it is stuck in the Rajya Sabha, where the government does not have adequate numbers to see it through.
Jaitley said the government is keen to ensure a consensus on the bill’s passage.
“I will, till the last day, continue to persuade the Congress to see reason so that they don’t go back on the bill they themselves introduced.”
“However, if the Congress persists with its opposition, ultimately a vote in the Rajya Sabha can only decide… what other options we have?”
Jaitley said once the GST Bill is passed, all consuming states will benefit.
“The Left government in Kerala, Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal or the JD(U) government in Bihar and even Biju Janata Dal government in Odisha — all are going to benefit.”
On the other hand, he said, producing states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu wanted to be compensated and thus have been offered a package.
To a question, he asserted that despite the GST discussions, both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress remain “opponents of each other”.
On the escalating prices of pulses and vegetables, the minister sid the price situation ought to be analysed in its proper context.
Directing his tirade against the previous Congress-led Manmohan Singh government, he said: “You lived under a UPA government where they left with 11 per cent inflation rate.”
On the contrary, the NDA government has “consistently” maintained inflation at four or four and half per cent, Jaitley said.
“Prices of most commodities have been controlled. There are seasonal fluctuations with vegetables,” he said.
Reminded of high prices of tomatoes and low prices of onions, the Finance Minister said: “This is demand-supply issue and the market will take care when additional produce arrives.”
However, he admitted to “serious challenge” from pulses.
There is a shortfall of five million tonnes of pulses with shortages in the last two years globally as well.
But the government is trying to get more pulses from various countries like Myanmar and Mozambique wherever available, he said.
“The moment the supply increases, the prices fall automatically. Last year, when we took action against hoarding, it took just two weeks to bring down the price of pulses by Rs 50,” Jaitley said.