At midnight, A gong in Parliament will signal GST is here

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New Delhi: Goods and Services Tax (GST), India’s biggest tax reform, will be launched at midnight by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Parliament’s historic Central Hall, in the presence of President Pranab Mukherjee. It is the fourth time since Independence that an event will be held there at midnight. The last three celebrated India’s Independence and that is among the reasons that the Congress has listed for boycotting the GST launch tonight. Several other opposition parties too are staying away. GST, which replaces a slew of indirect taxes with a unified tax, is set to dramatically reshape the country’s 2 trillion dollar economy.

Central Hall has been fitted with new carpets and sound systems for the big night. The event will start at 11 pm and extend after midnight to usher in GST on July 1, the new date set after an April 1 deadline was missed. A gong will be sounded at 12 to signal GST is here.

President Pranab Mukherjee and PM Modi will make speeches. At the high table of the Central Hall, former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda will join them as will Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Vice President Hamid Ansari. Former PM Dr Manmohan Singh was invited too but the Congress’ boycott means he will not be there.

Nearly 1,000 people are expected. Industrialist Ratan Tata will be there, as will RBI governor Urjit Patel and former governors Bimal Jalan and YV Reddy. Mr Patel’s predecessor Raghuram Rajan is not attending.

The government has invited all Members of Parliament, Chief Ministers and state finance ministers. Opposition parties like the Congress, the Left, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, DMK and Lalu Yadav’s RJD are boycotting the event. The Samajwadi Party is unsure about whether it would attend the function. It would be known “later in the day”, senior party leader Naresh Agarwal was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) has backed GST and though he will not attend, his party lawmakers have not been asked to stay away. Senior JD(U) lawmaker of the party Sharad Yadav will also skip the launch.

Tamil Nadu’s ruling party AIADMK, which had walked out when the GST Bill was passed in Parliament, said though they are not fully satisfied with provisions of the new tax, they “have no option but to support GST” and will attend today’s launch.

“It’s historic because earlier we had national integration. Today we will have economic integration,” Union Minister Venkiah Naidu said. “Unfortunate because they (opposition) are distancing themselves from the process of reformation. I hope they will realise it by evening and rethink and join us at the Central Hall.”

“This midnight spectacle is ignoring harsh realities of society, intolerance, farmers issues which cannot be ignored. Congress cannot be party to such a tamasha (drama), publicity gimmic…we won’t be party to publicity for a mere tax policy,” the Congress’ Anand Sharma said. The party has also objected to the plan for PM Modi to launch GST, saying President Pranab Mukherjee will be present and so should do the honours.

Opposition parties also say that protests this week by textile traders show that small traders and others are not  ready for GST. They suggested postponing the launch. Mamata Banerjee, in a Facebook post on Wednesday, said the “unnecessary hurry to roll out GST is another epic blunder of the Centre.” Aam Aadmi Party too isn’t attending the launch. “Happy that Finance Minister listened to all the voices but most of the states are BJP-ruled,” Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia told media.

“No transition can be seamless but we will make it as seamless as possible. Let people be assured that there is no intention to harass if a genuine mistake is made…mistakes can be taken care of,” Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia told on Thursday.

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