The GST, a radical step towards the country's transformation into a common market, became a reality at the stroke of midnight with Prime Minister Narendra Modi billing it as a “good and simple tax“ which would help businesspersons by putting an end to tax terrorism and inspector raj. It would also contribute to the welfare of people and the fight against corruption and black money, he added.
President Pranab Mukherjee and PM Modi pressed buttons in the historic Central Hall of Parliament to usher in the new regime, which promises to lower the tax burden by doing away with the cascading effect of 17 central and state taxes, apart from 23 cesses, and to facilitate free movement of goods across state borders. “From Ganganagar to Itanagar, from Leh to Lakshadweep, the dream of one nation, one tax will be fulfilled,“ PM Modi told the House. The PM, who quoted Albert Einstein and Chanakya, besides passages from the Vedas, described implementation of GST as a huge accomplishment, on a par with the merger of over 500 principalities into the Indian Union. He also referred to the coincidence of the GST Council having its 18th meeting on Friday , just ahead of the GST launch, and the Bhagavad Gita having 18 chapters.
Modi said GST was not just about taxation reform.“It is about cooperative federalism, it will help fight black money and corruption and usher in a new culture of governance, giving an opportunity to honesty. It brings in a new culture of governance,“ he said, adding that it would help “find resources to help the poor without disproportionately burdening anybody“ -a pitch reminiscent of the hardsell of demonetisation. “Kachcha pucca bill ka khel khatam (the time is up for not billing a transaction or under-invoicing it),“ the PM said.
The launch happened against the backdrop of a boycott by Congress, Trinamool, Left, DMK, RJD and a few other parties. Several non-NDA parties, including allies of Congress like NCP , turned up, giving a boost to the government's effort to cast the occasion as a non-partisan, transformational moment in the country's history . The choice of Central Hall, the venue for marking Independence and the adoption of the Constitution, and the spectacle of a lighted Parliament House, appeared to invest the occasion with solemnity and splendour befitting the turning point the government sought to project the event as. The government, however, took an above-the-fray position, refraining from scoring brownie points. “It is not just the achievement of one government. It is a shared accomplishment,“ the PM said, taking off from where finance minister Arun Jaitley left off.
President Mukherjee helped the effort by emphasising that GST enjoyed the sanction of the entire political class. “This consensus took not only time but also effort to build. The effort came from persons from across the political spectrum who set aside narrow partisan considerations and put the nation's interest first. It is a tribute to the maturity and wisdom of India's democracy ,“ the President said, recalling his role in introducing the Constitution amendment bill as the then finance minister. In fact, the President sought to allay concerns about likely disruption.“GST is a disruptive change. It is similar to the introduction of VAT when there was initial resistance. When a change of this magnitude is undertaken, however positive it may be, there are bound to be some teething troubles and difficulties in the initial stages. We will have to solve these with understanding and speed to ensure that it does not impact the growth momentum of the economy ,“ Mukherjee added.
But the PM did not let the grandeur of the occasion distract him from potential problems. He reached out to small businesses which are wary of the new regime, and said grievances, if any , would be redressed. The PM's stress on end of harassment by tax officials was also aimed at small and medium traders. “There is every possibility that those doing business honestly will face no harassment from now,“ he said.