The winter session usually starts in the third or fourth week of November, but was advanced to achieve the government’s ambitious target of rolling out the goods and services tax — a uniform indirect tax regime that will subsume all central and local levies such as excise, octroi and value added tax — from April 1 next year.
It’s also in keeping with the government’s plan to advance the presentation of the general budget by about a month. The budget is usually presented on the last working day of February, but the government has decided to advance it to start the process of revenue mobilisation and capital expenditures from April 1, the first day of the financial year.
Parliament passed the Constitution (122nd) Amendment Bill for GST in August, but it has to clear the Central GST and Integrated GST bills before its rollout from April 1, 2017, as envisaged by the NDA government.
These two enabling laws, while empowering the Centre to levy the GST on goods and services and collect it on inter-state trade and commerce, are expected to specify the range of GST rates, exempted items and compensation, among others. These issues are being deliberated upon by the GST Council headed by finance minister Arun Jaitley.
The government is likely to give a renewed push to its labour reforms agenda in the winter session of Parliament as well. High on the priority list is the Labour Code on Wages that seeks to empower the Centre to fix minimum wages across all sectors. The code amalgamates four existing laws relating to wages.
The labour ministry also hopes to build political consensus to get parliamentary approval to the Code on Industrial Relations, which aims to make retrenchment easier for firms employing up to 300 workers.
The last monsoon session was relatively smooth and productive — compared to previous sessions that were marred by government-opposition face-offs — but the winter session could witness a fractious debate on India’s September 29 surgical strikes across the de facto border in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Opposition parties have accused the BJP of politicising and “profiteering” from the military action, while the ruling party has accused them of “belittling” the sacrifice of the armed forces.
Ahead of elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and three other states in February-March next year, these allegations and counter-allegations could cast a shadow on the legislative agenda of the government in the coming session of Parliament.