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Aug 02, 2016 09:54 AM IST | Source: CNBC-TV18

Congress spokesperson says party will support GST

In the first official confirmation, Congress Spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi has said the party will support its passage when the Bill is tabled in Parliament Wednesday.

In the first official confirmation, Congress Spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi has said the party will support its passage when the Bill is tabled in Parliament Wednesday.

Noting that there had been movement on the subject, Singhvi added that the government's decision to table a fresh GST Constitutional Amendment Bill was a "clear sign of convergence".

He, however, said that many details of the tax reform will still to be worked out and that some states were still to come aboard.

The GST Amendment Bill is slated to be taken up in Parliament Wednesday and will likely include demands that states and opposition parties have made with respect to the Bill.

Below is the verbatim transcript of Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s interview to Shereen Bhan on CNBC-TV18.

Q: There was a meeting between the government and Congress party leaders today. The Finance Minister seems to suggest the meeting was successful. Are we given to understand now that the Congress will support the goods and services tax (GST) Bill in the Rajya Sabha?

A: I think continuing with the notion that no news is generally good news let me point out four-five things. Certainly there has been a movement; certainly there has been a convergence. The very fact that a Constitution Amendment Bill will come up day after tomorrow is itself indicative of the significant movement. However, having said that, we all understand that both god and the devil lie in the details. A large part of such a comprehensive regulatory scheme will have to be worked out in the act.

Let me make it clear that the act has a large number of states yet to come on board. There are differing states of different viewpoints and that is where the government still has to work but that is for later. I think the two part division will make it work with the time available in between for negotiations.

As far as the constitutional structure is concerned, it gives a great impetus to the whole thing. It creates a constitutional structure, it becomes vital declaration of intent because it is found in the highest document of the land, the constitution of India that we are having a GST. It makes inviolable, it makes the momentum and the direction much quicker for the act to come into place. So, I think it is a good thing and the nitty-gritty and the details will have to be still worked out. So, I think between this session and the next session that part will have to be taken care of.

Q: Let us cross each bridge as we get to it. So, can I get a straight forward answer? Will the Congress now support the GST Bill, is it a done deal now as far as the constitutional amendment bill itself is concerned?

A: As far as the constitutional level is concerned my answer is almost yes, except that I don't want to see any nasty surprises in the text which will come only day after tomorrow. So, the answer is a very frank one but obviously it depends on the government that they will give the constitutional act a bill which is more or less a bare bones structural thing and I see no particular problem.

Q: In the meeting that the congress had with the government today I am assuming that a lot of the details that you were hoping for or the clarifications that you were seeking from the government ought to have addressed those clarifications which is why we are now seeing the congress virtually come onboard as you have said almost yes, as far as the GST bill is concerned. What would you specifically be looking for and what are the crucial amendments that the congress may still move?

A: I am not at liberty to disclose to you the contents of the meeting. But the small caveat that I have put was - because I have not seen the formal text as brought up day after tomorrow. But I see no particular problem. One percent as you have just now said in this program is a good change. There is no other major breaking point at the constitutional level. So, I do not see - the real issues are the ones which come to the second stage and also what I think is also a good move is this pragmatism has been shown that you take away the contentious issue from this constitutional level bill and put them into further negotiations and package in the second one. So, that is a good move, I don't see any particular problem.

Q: Whether some clarification or clarity has been provided by the government to the Congress party on some sort of a resolution that we are given to understand that was arrived at at the state empowered finance ministers meeting? We are also given to understand that perhaps some sort of a guiding principle to arrive at the rate has been decided on in that resolution and may be it will be a part of the constitutional amendment bill. Do you have any clarity on that?

A: The very fact that you are having for the first time the Constitutional Amendment Bill being introduced, it is obvious to anybody who knows arithmetic that constitutional amendment bill would not be introduced for consideration had it not been a great degree of convergence. So, let us leave it at that, why get into the nitigrities because that is something which will have to be worked out on the floor of Parliament. I feel very positive as far as the constitutional amendment bill is concerned.

Q: What should we expect now as the next step?

A: That is the real one. This is a joyous occasion because the structure is there but it is by no means even half the journey. There is a huge amount of detail to be worked out and to be very honest, you forget the Congress, there are states out there which have nothing to do with the Congress which have very strong differences in the detailing, in the operational reality. For that matter even if you take out issues which have been left out, issues like alcohol and other things, I think those are details which have to be still worked out.

Below the act is a whole fasciculus of rules which we are ignoring. As Thomas Hardy said take care of the small things, the big things will take care of themselves. Now, the small things are still to be taken care of and that is where I think the challenges of the government which is very little to do with the Congress party but to do with many different perspectives of different states and that I think should take minimum the time between now and the next session and we will be very happy and lucky if that gets through by the next session.
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