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GST rolls out past midnight from Central Hall of Parliament

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New Delhi, July 1 : The Goods and Services Tax (GST), India’s biggest tax reform since Independence, rolled out past midnight Friday in the precincts of the hallowed Central Hall of Parliament to usher in a new indirect tax regime in an event that sought to evoke memories of the famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ night the country got freedom in 1947.

A minute after the stroke of midnight, President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi pressed the button to launch the new indirect tax regime on a digital screen with “GST” emblazoned on it in a golden hue.

Conceived on the principle of ‘one nation, one tax, one market’, the tax that subsumes 17 central and state levies was launched in the presence of Vice President Hamid Ansari, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, MPs, chief ministers, state finance ministers, officials of the Centre and states.

Notwithstanding the fact that the GST Law was a consensus product evolved over 14 years, the function in colorfully-decked Parliament House was boycotted by major opposition parties like Congress, Trinamool Congress, RJD, DMK and Left parties, saying the government was making a spectacle of a legislation for self-promotion, a charge Jaitley rejected. In keeping with his party’s decision, former Primer Minister Manmohan Singh kept away from the event. However, MPs and leaders of Congress allies NCP and Samajwadi Party attended the function.

Addressing the gathering, President Pranab Mukherjee said the introduction of GST is a moment of precedent for the country and a matter of personal satisfaction for him because of his role as Finance Minister earlier. “I had always believed that GST was a matter of time and was happy when it was enacted and I gave assent to the Constitution amendment last year,” he said.

He said the new law is a tribute to the maturity and wisdom of Indian democracy. The GST Council was a unique experiment under the Indian Constitution because of the shared sovereignty.

In his speech, Modi said the roll out of GST is the best example of cooperative federalism and success of Indian democracy. “The credit for the new law does not go to one party or one government but was a shared legacy of all,” he said.

In a veiled rejoinder to opposition criticism of the midnight function in Parliament, the Prime Minister said there cannot be a “better and sacred” venue than the Central Hall for the historic roll out.

The GST process cannot be confined to just economic system but was a collective effort of all, he said, adding it was a product of long discussions among the best brains of the country. “It is an example of Team India’s strength and ability,” he said.

Referring to the eminent personalities like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Babu Rajendra Prasad who had adorned the Central Hall, Modi said like Patel had integrated the country, the GST would integrate the country economically.

He described the GST as ‘Good and Simple Tax’ — good because there will be no tax on tax and simple because there will be only one form of tax. It will also help eliminate black money and corruption because of the transparency it seeks to bring in, he said.

Modi said whatever was lacking in growth and development of the country, GST will provide the opportunity to realise them.

Ahead of the launch, the GST Council slashed the rate of fertilisers from 12 per cent to 5 per cent and of exclusive parts of tractors from 28 per cent to 18 per cent to reduce the burden on farmers.

The launch of GST, which the government claimed would result in reduction of prices of articles of common consumption, also came amidst fears from various business sections that prices would go up under the new regime.

Welcoming the gathering, Jaitley described GST as the biggest and most ambitious tax reform which is an achievement of the country through consensus. It highlights the fact that India can rise above narrow politics and work for country’s benefit. In making the GST, neither the Centre nor the states gave up their sovereignty.

He said all MPs, state governments, political parties, state finance ministers and dedicated officials of the Centre and states deserved to be appreciated for realising the project of GST Law.

Jaitley said under GST, the revenues will go up as the compliance goes up and the GDP will also increase.

Parliament’s Central Hall has witnessed such a function only on three occasions earlier. First was on the occasion of Independence when first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made the famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech. The second was on the occasion of silver jubilee of Independence in 1972 and golden jubilee in 1997.

The GST is expected to check tax evasion and broaden tax base. In the new regime, all filings will be done only through electronic mode to ensure non-intrusive administration. This will minimise taxpayers’ physical interaction with the tax officials.

The GST regime seeks to reduce rates of over 50 per cent of items of daily use and charge others at much lower rate of 5 per cent, 12 per cent and 18 per cent.

A higher tax rate is imposed on luxury and sin goods at 28 per cent in the new regime. Certain services like telephone, banking and insurance are expected to feel the pinch of higher taxes.

The GST also promises taxpayers a refund against their sales within 60 days. Similarly, exporters will get refund within seven days. For protection of consumer rights, the new law provides anti-profiteering provisions. In a departure from the normal practice, the GST will be administered together by the Centre and the states.

IANS

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Anandiben Patel takes oath as new MP Governor

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Governor Anandi Ben Patel
Governor Anandi Ben Patel, Photo Credit ANI

Bhopal, Jan 23: Former Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel on Tuesday took oath as the Governor of Madhya Pradesh.

Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court Justice Hemant Gupta administered the oath of office to Patel in a function at the Raj Bhavan.

Parliament Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his cabinet colleagues were present on the occasion.

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Loya issue ‘serious’, will examine all matters, says SC

Matter is serious. Let us look at full records. Let it never be on our conscience that we did not look at what we should have.

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New Delhi, Jan 22 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Monday said the controversy surrounding the death of Special CBI court judge B.H. Loya is “serious” and it will look into the circumstances leading to his death in November 2014.

Judge Loya was holding the trial into the staged shootout deaths of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and two others.

“Matter is serious. Let us look at full records. Let it never be on our conscience that we did not look at what we should have,” the bench said as it directed all the parties to file whatever material they have relating to Loya’s death and the circumstances leading to it and set the next hearing for February 2.

Senior counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing for the Bombay Lawyers Association, and Indira Jaising, appearing for an intervener, said that the records being produced by the Maharashtra government were not complete as they pointed to some documents they had accessed through RTI.

“There is no question of restricting the records. Prepare a compilation of the record,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said allowing both the sides to file whatever documents they had in their possession.

The bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M.Khanwilkar and Justice Chandrachud also transferred to itself two petitions pending before the Bombay High Court and its Nagpur bench relating to the matter.

At the outset of the hearing, Dave objected to senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Maharashtra, saying that it was “not fair” for him to appear for the state government after appearing for BJP President Amit Shah, and that he has “done enough damage to the institution” and “there is a conflict of interest”.

He sought the appointment of amicus curiae to assist the court, but the court was not moved.

“We are on the circumstances leading to the death of Judge Loya. Let us not comment who is appearing for whom,” said Justice Chandrachud.

In a face-off between Dave and Salve, Dave said: “Entire institution is trying to protect one man – Amit Shah and Amit Shah alone” whom he described as “politician of great excellence”.

At this, Salve objected, saying: “What is this Amit Shah, Amit Shah. You are blaming somebody in the court behind his back. You can’t caste aspersion on somebody. You can’t jump three steps and pass comments just because he happens to be a prominent politician.”

As in the course of the arguments, Dave raised the pitch, the court intervened, saying that all the counsel appearing in the matter should assist it to “examine the documents objectively” and assuring that it would order the probe if needed.

As Dave, at one point, said that “as of today, it is a natural death”, Justice Chandrachud said: “If as on today, it is a natural death, you can’t cast aspersions. Let us look at the material objectively, so that we are not blamed that we did not look at the material dispassionately.”

In another face off between the rival lawyers, Jaising objected to Salve saying that the confidentiality of whatever material they will share with the counsel for petitioners and interveners be maintained and not shared with media, noting that it is like seeking a gag order against media.

As Justice Chandrachud said that “He is not saying gag the press. He is just saying …”, Jaising countered: “It means the same.”

As she said that court should not pass any order on Salver’s plea, the CJI asked if the court had said anything.

“Did we utter a word? Did we say gag? You can’t say order of the court. We are just discussing the matter,” he told Jaising asking her to withdraw her statement and apologise. She complied.

However, Dave said that if two judges in the Loya matter can address a press conference, why can’t the nation discuss it. He said that if the matters of Shashi Tharoor and P. Chidambram can be discussed in the media, then why not the Loya matter.

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India’s growing rich-poor divide: Richest 1% gross 73% wealth in 2017

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India’s richest, just 1 per cent of its 1.3 billion people, grossed 73 per cent of the wealth generated in 2017 while the wealth of the poorest half of Indians — some 67 crore — rose by only one per cent, according to a report by Oxfam.

The report, launched on Monday ahead of the gathering of some of the world’s richest at the World Economic Forum here, said the wealth of India’s elite went up last year by Rs 20,913 billion — an amount equivalent to the government’s total budget in 2017-18.

The Davos event is being attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Oxfam India has urged him to ensure that the “economy works for everyone and not just the fortunate few” in line with the government’s ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ slogan.

“It is alarming that the benefits of economic growth in India continue to concentrate in fewer hands. The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” said Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam India.

“Those working hard, growing food for the country, building infrastructure, working in factories are struggling to fund their child’s education, buy medicines for family members and manage two meals a day. The growing divide undermines democracy and promotes corruption and cronyism.”

The report, ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’, has also found that India’s top 10 per cent of population have 73 per cent of the total wealth in the country.

“Indian billionaires’ wealth increased by Rs 4,891 billion – from Rs 15,778 billion to over Rs 20,676 billion,” it said, adding the amount of Rs 4,891 billion was sufficient to finance 85 per cent of the budget on health and education in all Indian states.

It said India added 17 new billionaires last year, raising the number to 101. But 37 per cent of the these billionaires inherited the wealth from their families.

It said 51 billionaires out of the total 101 were aged 65 or above.

“If we assume that in the next 20 years, at least Rs 10,544 billion will be passed on to the inheritors and on that if 30 per cent inheritance tax is imposed, the government can earn at least Rs 3,176 billion.”

This will be sufficient to finance six crucial services — medical and public health, family welfare, water and sanitation, housing, urban development and labour and labour welfare in the country.

The report said at least one in every two workers in the garment sector in India were paid below the minimum wage. By those standards, the report said, “it will take 941 years for a minimum wage worker in rural India to earn what the top paid executive at a leading Indian garment firm earns in a year”.

Oxfam called upon the government to promote “inclusive growth by ensuring that the income of the bottom 40 per cent of the population grows faster than of the top 10 per cent” to close the income gap.

“This can be done by encouraging labour-intensive sectors that will create more jobs; investing in agriculture; and effectively implementing the social protection schemes that exist.”

It said the government must also seal the leaking wealth bucket by taking stringent measures against tax evasion and avoidance.

The income gap can also be reduced by “taxing the super-rich by re-introducing inheritance tax, increasing wealth tax, reducing and eventually do away with corporate tax breaks and creating a more equal opportunity country by increasing public expenditure on health and education”, it said.

The charity said the government must also bring data transparency, produce and make available high quality data on income and wealth and regularly monitor the measures it takes to tackle the issue of rising inequality.

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