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Improved RS numbers by Budget session give govt hope for GST


The numbers in the Rajya Sabha will somewhat change by the latter half of the Budget session next year to give a clear two-thirds majority to political parties that support the goods and services tax (GST) Bill. This has given government strategists confidence that the tax reform Bill can be passed after April even if the Congress and All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) were to oppose the Bill. Government strategists are, therefore, also mulling postponing the GST rollout date from April to June 2016.

Some in the government are still hopeful that the Congress will have a change of heart on the Bill after Saturday's hearing in the National Herald case in a Delhi court. They have also proposed, on the suggestion of a senior Opposition leader, to call an all-party meet to break the logjam. But the dominant view is that the government will need to wait until the latter half of the Budget session if the Congress continues to remain obstinate on a couple of its demands. The Budget session starts in February-end and continues until the first week of May.

Currently, all parties barring the Congress (67 MPs) and AIADMK (12 MPs), support the Bill. In addition, the government believes most among the MPs nominated by the President might vote with the Congress, as they were sent to Parliament by the UPA government. (The President nominates 12 MPs, of which currently there are two vacancies and two others, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Bhalchandra Mungekar later opted to be treated as part of the Congress.)

A Constitution amendment Bill needs to be passed by a two-thirds majority. Current strength of the Rajya Sabha is 242, with three vacancies. The Bill, if all members were to vote, will need 162 votes in favour. But the government only has confirmed support of 155. As many as 17 MPs will end their terms by April 2016, including five from the nominated category. These are Aiyar, Mungekar, Javed Akhtar, B Jayashree and Mrinal Miri.

Of the 12 elected MPs set to retire by April, five are from the Congress, three from Communist Party of India (Marxist), two each of the BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal. Government strategists forecast that after these 17 are be elected or nominated, those in support of the GST will be in majority. It is also confident that the AIADMK could be persuaded to stage a walkout at the time of voting.

However, this thin advantage will be useless if the Congress, instead of voting on the Bill, chooses to protest. Passage of a Constitution amendment Bill requires that the House be in order. Rajya Sabha Chairman M Hamid Ansari is also a stickler for rules and does not favour passing of Bills in the din. On Wednesday, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati suggested that the SC/ST amendment Bill be passed in the din created by protested Congress MPs but the chair refused. Ansari's term ends in August 2017.

On calling an all-party meeting, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said: “I am not ruling it in. I am not ruling it out. An all party meet can happen on any issue." Naidu had a word with Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge but was tightlipped about the time and place of the next meeting of senior ministers with Congress leaders on GST.

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