Congress CMs say their FMs left out of GoM deliberately

In its meeting on May 28, the GST Council had decided to set up the Group of Ministers, which has been tasked to submit its report by June 8.

The Chief Ministers of the Congress-ruled Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh on Tuesday hit out at the Union government for not including Finance Ministers from their party-ruled states in the Group of Ministers (GoM) formed to examine the issue of exempting GST or cutting rate on Covid essentials like vaccines, drugs, hand sanitisers, masks, PPE kits and oxygen-related equipment.

In a statement, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said the “exclusion” was deliberate.

In its meeting on May 28, the GST Council had decided to set up the Group of Ministers, which has been tasked to submit its report by June 8.

“The Union Government has set up a GoM following the GST Council Meeting of May 28th, 2021. A deliberate attempt has been made to keep the principal Opposition party, the Congress, that has three members in the GST Council, out of the GoM. Only the BJP has more members in the GST Council,” Gehlot said in a statement.

He said keeping out the Congress members is most unfortunate and strikes at the very roots of cooperative federalism. “It is pertinent to mention that from the States of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu who had taken a stand contrary to that of the proposed agenda, none has been included in the GoM,” he added.

Gehlot asked the eight members of the GoM, headed by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, to reflect on the exclusion of the Congress Finance Ministers before they proceed with their deliberations.

Congress and other Opposition-ruled states have been demanding a reduction in taxes and zero rating for these items but the central government felt the move may not result in the benefits being passed on to the end users of patients and citizens.

Headed by Sangma, the members of the GoM are Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitinbhai Patel, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Goa Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho, Finance Ministers of Kerala (K N Balagopal), Odisha (Niranjan Pujari), Telangana (T Harish Rao) and Uttar Pradesh (Suresh Kr Khanna).

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel too said the exclusion of Congress ministers is against the spirit of cooperative federalism. He said the Congress ministers were deliberately kept out so that there is no discussion on their demand that the GST on Covid essentials should be 0.1 per cent instead of 5 per cent.

An e-mail sent to the Finance Ministry spokesperson seeking comments on the issue did not elicit a response.

Senior Congress leader and former finance Minister P Chidambaram said Gehlot’s remarks on behalf of the three Congress FMs “reveals a distressing state of affairs in the GST Council.”

“How can the States that expressed a contrary view to the views of FM Nirmala Sitharaman be altogether kept out of the GoM to report on reduction of GST rates?

This is BJP’s brand of non-cooperative non-federalism. The 8 FMs who are in the GoM should protest against the deliberate exclusion of FMs of certain States,” he said.

Addressing a press conference, Chidambaram hit out at Sitharaman accusing her of treating GST Council members with disdain.

“I think the Finance Minister had treated the members of the GST council with disdain. I think she just heard them and finally took no decisions. They have appointed a GoM to recommend on whether GST rates should be reduced on Covid related medicine and equipment…that is a decision that should have been taken on the day they met…that is a decision that should not have taken more than 10 or 15 minutes to take…the GoM will give its report on June 8….This is called procrastination. This is called not taking a decision…if the report of the GoM is coming on June 8, then you should call a meeting on June 9….I think the GST Council is being treated with complete disdain and contempt by the Finance Minister,”Chidambaram said.

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