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Arun Jaitley cremated with full state honours

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The mortal remains of former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, one of the veterans of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were given the last rites with full state honours at the Nigambodh Ghat here on Sunday amid heavy rain, a day after he passed away.

A virtual Who’s Who of the BJP and the Narendra Modi government was in attendance as the late leader’s son, Rohan Jaitley, performed the last rites. When the funeral pyre was being lit, it started pouring.

The former union Minister, who Prime Minister Modi counted as a friend, breathed his last just after noon on Saturday. He was 66 and had been ailing for some time.

Besides Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, senior political leaders cutting across the party lines reached the crematorium to pay their tributes to Jaitley.

They included Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP Working President J.P. Nadda and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla.

Others were Chief Ministers Nitish Kumar of Bihar, B.S. Yediyurappa of Karnataka, Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi, Union Minister Smriti Irani and yoga guru Baba Ramdev.

Prime Minister Modi, who is abroad, expressed grief over the demise.

Modi tweeted: “With the demise of Arun Jaitleyji, I have lost a valued friend whom I have had the honour of knowing for decades. His insight on issues and nuanced understanding of matters had very few parallels. We will miss him.”

Hundreds of mourners gathered at the ghat to bid adieu to the BJP veteran who began his political career at a young age and was imprisoned during the Emergency period of 1975-77. He enjoyed personal rapport with leaders of various political parties.

His mortal remains arrived at the crematorium from the BJP headquarters around 2 p.m. wrapped in the tricolour.

Delhi Police gave a gun salute in Jaitley’s honour.

“Jaitley’s demise is a big loss to the nation as well the party,” said Arjun Singh, a local BJP leader.

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Telangana, Andhra CMs condole Jaitley’s death

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The Chief Ministers of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have expressed shock over the demise of former Union Minister and veteran BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who passed away after prolonged illness at the AIIMS in the national capital on Saturday.

Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao, in his condolence message, recalled the services rendered by Jaitley to the nation and prayed that the former Finance Minister’s soul may rest in peace. Rao conveyed his condolences to the members of the bereaved family.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy also expressed grief over the death of the BJP stalwart and conveyed his deep-felt condolences to the bereaved family members.

“Jaitley has been a legal luminary and an articulate parliamentarian who made his indelible mark on the political landscape during the Narendra Modi government. May his soul rest in peace,” said Jagan Mohan Reddy.

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Arun Jaitley: The editor’s choice prime minister

A lawyer-turned-politician will be as staid an introduction for Arun Jaitley as a cricketer-turned-commentator for Sunil Gavaskar.

A brilliant strategist and one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most trusted colleagues, Jaitley was far more than an accomplished lawyer and many notches above his contemporaries in politics. The overcrowded grand stage of Delhi’s intoxicating power elite has paused. It has lost one of its main protagonists, who passed away at AIIMS after prolonged illness on Saturday.

Armed with a razor sharp legal mind and ace political acumen, Jaitley slayed his opponents with intellectual finesse, yet maintained a dignity and class that earned him accolades from even those at the receiving end of his diatribe.

Before blossoming into a full-fledged politician, Jaitley had established himself as a shining spark in legal circles. Despite becoming one of the top lawyers in the country, politics seemed his natural calling.

His sprouting at the national scene became imminent after he made his mark as the Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) President in 1974 and got sucked into anti-Emergency movement.

Those were the heady 70s when it was not surprising to see someone from a prestigious institution like Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) representing the student’s body, unlike these days when campus politics has become a domain of bullies and thugs.

The doors for his formal arrival on the national scene were opened in the early 1990s when the nation was at the cusp of social, political and economic transformation. The Mandal politics was peaking in the Hindi heartland, the dust from the demolition of Babri mosque in Ayodhya had turned into a thick dark cloud threatening the very foundations of the nation amidst which then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister Manmohan Singh were scripting a new economic chapter.

Jaitley slowly occupied a prime place in BJP’s hierarchy in the shadow of stalwarts of the time Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani.

After BJP uprooted the Congress from Madhya Pradesh in 2003, Jaitley’s abilities as a poll manager were widely hailed. He brought the development agenda at the forefront of political discourse by focussing the campaign on basic and long overlooked issues like ‘Bijli’, ‘Sadak’, ‘Paani’ (electricity, roads and water).

He made smooth transition from the corridors of the Supreme Court to the chaotic workspace in Shastri Bhawan, first as junior minister in the Vajpayee government handling Information and Broadcasting Ministry and Disinvestment, and then as Cabinet Minister from July 2000 onwards driving Law, Justice and Company Affairs and Shipping Ministries.

Jaitley, however, flourished more in Parliament than in the cabinet. After 2004 when the Vajpayee government was voted out in a surprise verdict, Jaitley became the voice of the opposition in the Upper House.

He went on to become the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in June 2009 and led a series of virulent attacks against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, playing a key role in ensuring its eventual downfall. His acerbic speeches echoed in the high ceilings of Rajya Sabha as he had the government on the mat on series of corruption scandals and what he termed as ‘policy paralysis’.

His was no ordinary voice in the Parliament. When he stood up to speak, the government of the day would hear in rapt attention. In fact, such was his prowess that the UPA government would often fear if the legislations brought by it would pass Jaitley’s scrutiny.

It is ironical that the best performing MP failed the people’s test in 2014. Jaitley contested Lok Sabha polls from Amritsar but lost to Captain Amarinder Singh. The defeat was a rare personal setback for him as even a Modi wave could not help his fortune.

The electoral debacle did not alter his standing in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Jaitley was seen as the most trusted confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who learnt intricacies of New Delhi’s power ecosystem from his long time friend.

Jaitley was given charge of two key ministries — Finance and Defence. As he shuffled between the North and South block, he suffered another jolt and this time it was more personal. He got bogged down by health issues. Despite frequent visits to the hospital and subsequent long recuperating spells, Jaitley continued to be the most important minister in Modi 1.0 until his condition deteriorated further because of multiple ailments.

Despite his medical condition, he would come to the rescue of the Modi government through his periodic commentaries on social media which became a repository of political judgment.

Jaitley remained physically absent from the election campaign in 2019 but kept the pot of his attacks on the Congress boiling through social media and continued his tirade till the very last days. In one of his recent posts, he had blasted the Congress for its stand on the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite his ideological doggedness, Jaitley earned respect of his opponents. His right wing mooring did not deter him from making friends from leaders of all political hues. The boundaries between political ideologies blurred in his family.

A Delhi boy (he went to St. Xavier’s school in the Civil Lines), he was also the son-in-law of Jammu, having married staunch Congressman and regional stalwart Girdhari Lal Dogra’s daughter Sangeeta. Modi in 2015 attended his father-in-law’s centenary ceremony, attended by scores of Congress leaders, among others.

Jaitley’s influence was far beyond the political domain. He dominated the legal circles even after becoming politician and was a key cricket administrator who had complete control over Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). He was one of the key influencers in Delhi’s bar, playing an intricate role its politics. He commanded same influence in complex cricketing affairs of the country.

Apart from cricket and legal arena, Jaitley was a darling of the media. Contrary to his popular image of being a serious political analyst, Jaitley was a reservoir of Lutyen’s gossip which often landed him on the wrong side of many of his party colleagues who suspected him to be the “source” of many media commentaries on internal affairs. He was at ease with editors and propreitors and held regular ‘darbar’ with a group of reporters.

There was a joke at one time that if an editor’s choice was sought on who should be the Prime Minister, Jaitley would have won hands down!

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Jaitley’s condition critical, several ministers visit AIIMS

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Several Union Ministers including Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani and Jitendra Singh, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat as well as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited AIIMS on Sunday to enquire about the health of former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who is in a critical condition on life support systems.

Jaitley, 66, has been put on extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is used for patients whose lungs and heart are incapable of operating on their own.

He was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on August 9 after he complained of breathlessness and restlessness.

Others who visited the hospital on Sunday included Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, Himachal Pradesh Governor Kalraj Mishra, RSS Joint General Secretary Krishna Gopal and former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had visited AIIMS on Friday and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) President Mayawati on Saturday.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar flew to Delhi on Saturday and directly went to the hospital from the airport.

Among other leaders, Union Minister Piyush Goyal, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik, and Congress leaders Abhishek Singhvi and Jyotiraditya Scindia also visited the hospital.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and top BJP leaders have also visited the hospital.

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Jaitley in critical state, several leaders visit AIIMS

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Former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who has been put on life support at the AIIMS hospital here, is in a critical condition, hospital sources said on Saturday.

Jaitley has been put on extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is used for patients whose lungs and heart are incapable of operating on their own.

Several political leaders came to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to meet the senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.

Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) President Mayawati visited the hospital to meet Jaitley who has been admitted since August 9.

“Today I went to AIIMS to see former Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley to enquire about his health. There I met his family members and with them, I prayed to God for the speedy recovery of Jaitley ji,” she tweeted.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar flew to Delhi on Saturday and directly went to the hospital from the airport.

Among other leaders, Union Minister Piyush Goyal, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik, and Congress leaders Abhishek Singhvi and Jyotiraditya Scindia also visited the hospital to enquire about Jaitley’s health.

On Friday night, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited AIIMS to meet the ailing leader.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and top BJP leaders have also visited the hospital.

Jaitley was admitted to AIIMS on August 9 after he complained of uneasiness and weakness. Owing to his health condition, Jaitley had opted out of contesting the elections this year as well as taking up a ministerial role.

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Arun Jaitley in AIIMS ICU; PM, Shah visit hospital

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Former Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was on Friday admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) after he complained of uneasiness and weakness and was undergoing treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU), a hospital official said.

“… He is currently undergoing treatment in the intensive care unit under the supervision of a multidisciplinary team of doctors. At present, he is haemodynamically stable,” Aarti Vij, Chairman of AIIMS’ Media and Protocol Division, said in a statement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and other top BJP leaders visited the hospital to inquire about his condition.

A senior AIIMS doctor told IANS that Jaitley was admitted to the cardiology department at 10 a.m. “for a medical check-up” and was being monitored by a team comprising an endocrinologist, a nephrologist and a cardiologist.

Jaitley’s family members are present at the VIP room of the Cardiothoracic and Neurosciences Centre in AIIMS.

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General elections within 6 months, says Jaitley

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Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said the 2019 general elections will take place within 6 months time and the people of the country should observe carefully which alliance will give stable government at the centre. The last general elections were held in May 2014. Unlike before, the Congress party is expected to work with a large number of regional parties to counter the BJP this time.

Against this backdrop, Arun Jaitley said at a meeting in Delhi the so-called alliance would be in permanent pressure from its allies over their respective demands. He talked about one particular party which would continuously threaten to dislodge the government if its demand for special status is not fulfilled. His remarks assumed significance in the light of the TDP President and AP CM Chandrababu Naidu bringing to the fore the special status demand.

The TDP gameplan is to checkmate and prevent the YSR Congress party and the Jana Sena party from taking political benefits out of a secret understanding with the BJP and the TRS. TRS Chief K Chandrasekhar Rao has threatened to come to AP and he is going to obviously support Jagan and Pawan in return for their support to TRS in Telangana polls. The TDP is facing rivalry from the YCP, Jana Sena, BJP, TRS and MIM. All these parties will try to oust the TDP in AP while Naidu will corner them over special status and injustice.

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Congress, BJP attack each other over Mallya; Rahul seeks Jaitley’s resignation

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A fresh war of words broke out between the BJP and Congress over Vijay Mallya on Thursday with Congress President Rahul Gandhi seeking Finance Minister Arun Jaitleys resignation over “free passage” given to the fugitive businessman and the BJP hitting out by alleging that UPA government gave “sweet deals” to him and that Gandhi family “partially owned the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines through proxy”.

The ruling party rejected the demand for Jailtley’s resignation and instead sought to turn the tables on Congress by asking Rahul Gandhi to quit in view of his involvement in National Herald case.

The day saw two press conferences each by the Congress and BJP with Gandhi coming to party’s central office to attack Jaitley.

It came a day after Mallya said he had met Jaitley and the Union minister rubbished the claim of any formal meeting.

Gandhi accused Jaitely of “colluding” with Mallya who is facing charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to around Rs 9,000 crore.

He asked why Jaitley did not inform the investigating agencies about Mallya’s plans to leave India.

“There is a clear-cut collusion. He (Jaitley) should have confessed (about the meeting) and he should resign. The Finance Minister talks to an absconder (Mallya) and the absconder tells the Finance Minister that I am going to London. The Finance Minister neither told the CBI, the ED or the police, why?

“He was given a free passage to leave the country by the Finance Minister. There was a lookout notice against Mallya which was diluted to an inform notice. Who changed it? This can be done only by one who controls the CBI,” he alleged.

Gandhi also demanded to know if the decision was taken by Jaitley himself or the “order came from the top”.

“The Finance Minister has colluded with a criminal running away from the country. He was told by the criminal that he is going to run away but the Finance Minister did nothing. The government is lying on Rafale, they are lying on Mallya”.

At the media conference, Congress MP P.L. Punia claimed to give an eyewitness account of the meeting between Jaitley and Mallya in the Central Hall of Parliament before the businessman fled the country on March 2, 2016.

Punia claimed the meeting between Jaitley and Mallya lasted 15-20 minutes and asked if Mallya had taken permission from Jaitley about his planned flight abroad.

Hitting out at the Congress, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra alleged that there were documents that show how RBI and UPA under Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh had given sweet deals to Kingfisher Airlines.

“And it appears through these chain of documents that Kingfisher Airlines was owned not by Mallya but by the Gandhi family through proxy,” he alleged showing the letters written by RBI to SBI requesting for the restructuring of the loans of Kingfisher Airline

The accuracy of the documents could not be ascertained. There was no immediate response from Rahul Gandhi’s office.

Patra also alleged that the party has enough evidence which shows that Rahul Gandhi was “using black money” and the Gandhi family was helping Mallya with sweet deals.

He claimed that Rahul Gandhi travelled free in Kingfisher Airlines, which was once owned by Mallya.

“Rahul Gandhi took one crore loan from a shell company, we have the confession of the company director,” Patra alleged.

At another press conference, Congress Communications In-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala posed specific questions to the Modi government.

“Why was no action taken against Vijay Mallya for bank fraud despite registration of an FIR by CBI on July 29, 2015? Who asked CBI to change its look-out notice of October 16, 2015 into a mere ‘inform notice’ on November 23, 2015? Who directed the banks to delay filing of the case in the Supreme Court,” he asked.

Earlier in the day, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters that all the allegations against Jaitley were “false”.

“All these remarks are being made after Rahul Gandhi’s London visit. Is there anything common between them (Mallya and Rahul Gandhi)?” he asked.

Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, who addressed a press conference at the BJP headquarters, said Rahul Gandhi was “facing serious criminal charges” and that he “should first resign.”

“Those who took loans from hawala companies and accumulated wealth by taking government land free of cost or at lower rate from National Herald and whose case was rejected by Delhi High Court, should resign first,” he said.

He also dismissed the claims of Punia about Mallya meeting Jaitley in the Central Hall of Parliament.

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No need to panic over rupee devaluation: Jaitley

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Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday said there is no need to worry over the steep fall in the Indian rupee’s value against the US dollar as the inherent strength of the country’s economy will aid in arresting the downtrend.

According to Jaitley, the recent trend in the Indian rupee’s devaluation has been caused due to external factors such as fluctuations in the global crude oil prices, trade war tensions and outflows of funds towards the US.

“If you look at the domestic economic situation and global situation, there are no domestic reasons attributable to this (devaluation),” Jaitley said at a media briefing after the meeting of the Union Cabinet.

The minister said that besides the US dollar the Indian rupee has not devalued against any other major currency in the world including the Pound, Euro and the Yen.

“The reasons are global. We must bear in mind that in the last few months the dollar has strengthened against almost every currency and therefore most global currencies have weakened vis-a-vis the dollar,” Jaitley said.

“No need for the world’s fastest growing economy to come out with panic and knee jerk reaction….”

On Wednesday, the Indian rupee settled at a record closing low of 71.75 against the US dollar, weaker by 17 paise than its previous close of 71.58 per greenback.

It recovered from the all-time low of 71.97 per dollar reached earlier in the day.

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Arun Jaitley leads TDP – BJP alliance breakup!

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The war between Arun Jaitley (AJ) and Chandrababu Naidu (CBN) has finally resulted in breaking the alliance between TDP and BJP both at the state and Centre. With Arun Jaitley stating that Special Category Status cannot be given to Andhra Pradesh, the AP CM Chandrababu Naidu stubborn on Special Category Status, the fallout was expected to be inevitable.

The TDP Cabinet Ministers are expected to submit their resignations by tomorrow morning. At the same time, Chandrababu Naidu has also decided to withdraw TDP’s support to the NDA alliance at the Centre. This clear hints the possibility of Chandrababu being a part of the Federal Front, an alternative to BJP and Congress parties at the power of seat, New Delhi.

It will be interesting to see whether BJP will come down, and try to negotiate with TDP regarding the Cabinet Ministers resignation.

During a key meeting with the TDP members, Chandrababu Naidu, along with the rest of the party members have felt that it is high time that they have to come out of NDA and BJP alliance at Centre and State respectively.

Chandrababu Naidu is expected to make an official comment at around 10:15 pm or late into the night. TDP will be the first party to come out of NDA alliance, and most likely parties like Shiv Sena and others can follow the path of TDP.

P.S – Cabinet Meeting is currently underway in New Delhi. AP (TDP) Cabinet Ministers, both Sujana Chowdhary and Ashok Gajapathi Raju are in the meeting.

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Jaitley rules out special status for Andhra, offers special package

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Facing threats from ally TDP, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday ruled out granting Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh but said the government was ready to give monetary equivalent of the same in the form of a special package.

The Telugu Desam Party has threatened to quit the NDA alliance if the state is not granted the special status as was promised when the state was bifurcated in 2014.

“Government is ready to give monetary equivalent of the special status to Andhra Pradesh. Instead of calling it special status, we’re calling it a special package,” Jaitley told media persons.

He said that while special status states as a concept did exist when Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated but after the implementation of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations the status was constitutionally restricted to the North-East and three hilly states.

Notwithstanding that, Jaitley said that since Andhra Pradesh “had suffered” after its bifurcation, it needed financial assistance which his government was committed to provide.

He said the state will get monetary equivalent of what they would be entitled to under the special status.

For Special Category States, the expenses for the centrally sponsored schemes are shared in the 90-10 ratio between the Central government and the state government as opposed to 60-40 ratio in case of other states.

Jaitley said the only facility that Special Category States now enjoyed was this 30 per cent advantage which could be calculated in monetary terms and given to the state.

The Finance Minister said that Andhra Pradesh earlier wanted those funds via externally aided programmes mechanism, but now wanted it to be routed through National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard).

“We’re open to that as well but a method has to be evolved wherein it doesn’t affect the fiscal deficit of either state or Centre,” he said.

Jaitley said the government had repeatedly said it was willing to give the monetary equivalent of the special status to the state and was waiting for the Andhra Pradesh government’s response.

Asked about meeting revenue-deficit of the state, the Finance Minister said the central government had already paid Rs 4,000 crore.

“Only Rs 138 crore is the balance.”

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AP Team meets Arun Jaitley! Madcon ‘Beggin…’ show continues

AP Team of Ministers representing Government of Andhra Pradesh met the Cabinet Financial Minister Arun Jaitley. Speaking to the media after the meeting, Yanamala Ramakrishnudu stated that, they conveyed to Arun Jaitley that, Special Category Status should be granted to Andhra Pradesh at any cost. Similarly, the AP MPs also reinstated, all the Special Category Status benefits should be given to AP without any compromise.

It further said that ‘Tax Concessions, Central Grants, Industrial incentives are the lifeline of Andhra Pradesh. Given the extension of the Special Category Status to the existing 11 states in the Country, even the Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh should also be granted.’

Shockingly, after hearing to the AP Team of Ministers, Arun Jaitley stated that ‘Industrial Incentives’ aspect is completely under Suresh Prabhu, and a circular from him should be released. Factually speaking, PM Modi has the ultimate say regarding the granting of Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh.

The meeting with Arun Jaitley took place in his office. Cabinet Minister Sujana Chowdary, MP Ram Mohan Rao, Kutumba Rao, Kambhampati Hari Babu (BJP), Yanamala Ramakrishnudu, and other TDP leaders.
Interestingly, Amit Shah ditched the meeting last minute.

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Arun Jaitley Speech on AP Demands

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The Centre hasn’t changed its stand, just like the AP MPs protests. With the ongoing protests for the past 6 days, many expected that the Centre would come down. But the Centre’s behaviour came as a shocker not only to the opposition, but also other NDA-allies. After Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President, Venkaiah Naidu completed his concluding speech, Arun Jaitley briefed the house about the AP Reorganization Act 2014. Just like the past two days, Jaitley’s speech did not have anything new in response to the AP MPs protests.

In fact, he did not even mention about the AP MPs protests for the past few days. The Finance Minister said the Centre is committed to fulfilling the promises made to the state of Andhra Pradesh. Follow are the key excerpts from Jaitley’s speech:

  • Relevant Ministries are working to fulfil the commitments made in the AP Reorganization Act 2014
  • Telangana secured more revenue during bifurcation
  • We need to compensate the Revenue deficit of Andhra Pradesh
  • Relevant Ministries are working on Vishakhapatnam Railway Zone, Durgarajapatnam Port and Kadapa Steel Plant
  • Funds for Capital construction and Polavaram Project have been sanctioned
  • We asked the relevant ministries and authorities to focus on Vishakhapatnam – Chennai corridor
  • Rs 3,979 crores were sanctioned for AP during 2014 – 2015
  • Educational institutions lost during the bifurcation have been re-established in AP

The TDP MPs and YSRCP MPs expressed their displeasure over Arun Jaitley’s recent announcement. The Parliament will resume on March 5th, 2018.

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GST has stabilised, opportunity for rationalisation: Jaitley

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Days after the GST collections picked up after falling for two straight months, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday said the GST structure had stabilised, which offered an opportunity to further rationalise tax rates and increase the tax base.

Ahead of the Union Budget announcement on February 1, the Minister also hinted at some relief for taxpayers as he made a case for rationalisation of direct tax structure considering the fact that “the tax base has expanded”.

“The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has brought about total change in the tax structure of indirect taxes within the country,” Jaitley said at the Investiture Ceremony and International Customs Day 2018 here.

“Compared with what has happened across the world, it has stabilised in a much shorter period in India,” he said.

Jaitley’s remarks come days after the central government announced that the GST collections had picked up after falling for two straight months and touched Rs 86,703 crore in December compared with Rs 80,808 crore in November.

Indicating further cuts in GST rates, Jaitley said this stabilisation of the GST structure offered the government an opportunity to increase its base and rationalise its structure as it continued to evolve.

The GST Council had, in its meeting on January 18, decided to slash the GST rate on 54 services and 29 items.

In its November 10 meeting, the council had removed 178 items from the highest 28 per cent category while cutting tax on all restaurants outside starred-hotels to 5 per cent.

The Finance Minister said: “In income tax, the base has become larger; it’s bound to enlarge. And, therefore, charging higher rates from few selected groups — which is traditionally been done — is an area which has been changing.”

Notably, the net direct tax collections witnessed an increase of 18.7 per cent till January 15 this fiscal compared with the corresponding period last year.

The Minister said the the role of the Customs Department was also evolving with the changing nature of the economy and the increased availaibility of technological tools.

“In customs also, tariffs have been rationalised. (Due to) the increased focus on ‘Make in India’, plus availability of a large number of goods and commodities within the country, the nature of Customs Department itself has changed.”

Jaitley said the Customs Department was facing the twin challenges of detection along with facilitation.

“The department has twin role to play. You ought to have a detection machinery in place so as to ensure that tax evasion does not take place. At the same time, you have to be a trade facilitator which makes entry into borders easy,” he said.

“It is in the larger interest of domestic economy to ensure that trade facilitation takes place.”

He said the department had to find a balance between the two seemingly contradictory roles.

Jaitly also urged the customs officials to bring greater efficiency in cross-border trade which could go a long way in improving India’s ‘ease of doing business’ ranking.

“Out of the 10 criteria that the World Bank follows, there are at least three — relating to municipal permissions of land and buildings, trading across borders and contract enforcement — which are not very difficult to satisfy. If we hit the bullseye on these three, then to come down to substantially below 100 (rank) is reasonably possible.

“And when it comes to trade across borders, the Customs Department has a very significant role to play,” he said.

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Panic over bank accounts

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Banks in Hyderabad are witnessing long queues reminding customers of the days soon after demonetization last year. Reason: They want to withdraw as much money as possible from their accounts over fears created by the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill.

Adding to their fears is the customers are allowed to withdraw only Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000. ATMs, of course, have gone empty. The panic is partly created by reports and videos that are making rounds on the social media that depositors’ money in the banks could be taken away by the government if the Bill is passed. Though Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has been assuring the public that the proposed Bill is intended to safeguard the interests of banks if they go bankrupt, customers’ fears of losing money are growing by the day.

The FRDI Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in August this year and a joint parliamentary panel is scrutinising it which seeks to pump in Rs2.11 lakh crores into the public sector banks which are suffering as a result of non-payment of huge corporate loans.

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GST Council cuts tax slab for 178 items from 28% to 18%

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Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday announced that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council has decided to slash tax slabs for 178 items from 28 per cent to 18 per cent.

“The GST Council has decided to slash tax slabs of 178 items from 28 per cent to 18 per cent. It will be applicable from 15th of this month,” the Finance Minister said while briefing media here after the two-day long meeting.

For two items, tax slab has been lowered from 28 per cent to 12 per cent.

He also said the Council had been looking at the 28 per cent tax slab and constantly rationalising items in it in lesser tax slabs.

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Jaitley in US, makes strong case for reforms in H1-B/L1 visa processes

Highlighting the contribution of skilled Indian professionals to the US economy, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has made a strong case for reforms in H1-B/L1 visa processes during bilateral talks with the US Treasury Secretary and US Commerce Secretary here.

“Jaitley made a strong case for reforms in H1-B/L1 visa processes and social security contribution so that high calibre Indian professionals serving American interests are not unfairly deprived of their well-earned money. He also highlighted the contribution skilled Indian professionals have made to the US economy and said that this must be suitably appreciated by the US side,” the Finance Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

The Finance Minister is on a one-week official tour to Washington DC to attend the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and other associated meetings. He is accompanied by Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel and Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg.

On the sidelines of the World Bank and IMF Meetings, Jaitley held bilateral meetings with the US Treasury Secretary and the US Commerce Secretary here and discussed the Indo-US economic cooperation, in particular how bilateral trade and investment can be improved between the two countries.

The Finance Minister highlighted the structural reforms India has undertaken through a series of bold measures, including the Goods and Service Tax (GST), financial inclusion and action against the shadow economy, the statement said.

Earlier, Garg delivered a keynote address on micro pension where he dwelt on the big challenge of convincing policy makers and the potential young persons needing pension after their active life. He appreciated the efforts of organisers in bringing a well-researched book as country and thematic reforms action needed to realise the dream of providing pensions to over 1.2 billion people world-wide.

The Economic Affairs Secretary also met with the World Bank CEO, Global Infrastructure Hub CEO and the Executive Vice President and CEO of Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.

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30 items of mass consumption to cost less, GST cess to go up on SUVs, large cars

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The GST rates on 30 items of mass consumption were slashed on Saturday while the cess on mid and high-segment cars went up by 2 to 7 per cent as the GST Council formed a five-member Committee to sort out technical glitches faced on the return-filing portal while the last date for GSTR 1 has been extended by a month.

Briefing the media after the second review meeting post the Goods and Services Tax roll out, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that in consonance with the recommendations of the fitment committee, the tax rates on approximately 30 goods of common utility, including dry tamarind, custard powder, raincoats, rubberbands and batter for idli and dosa, have been reduced.

The pre-GST rates on some of the items were also slashed. The tax on plastic raincoats and rubberbands, for instance, have been reduced from 28 to 18 and 12 per cent respectively.

Jaitley with the changed nature of economy, the government could afford to have the rates of some these items reduced.

Khadi fabric through Khadi and Village Industries Commission Act of 1956 (KVIC) stores will now be exempted under GST.

About the increase in cess rates on automobiles, he said that while status quo has been maintained for small cars (petrol and diesel), hybrid cars and 13-seater vehicles, the Council decided to increase the cess rates for some segments.

GST cess on mid-segment cars has been increased by 2 per cent, for large segment cars it has been increased by 5 per cent and for SUVs by 7 per cent, he said. He claimed that though the space of increase was 10 pe rcent, the Council did not restore the pre-GST rates.

Jaitley said in view of the GST filing portal encountering increasing technical glitches, the Council has decided to set up a five-member ministerial panel to oversee its functioning and smoothen the process.

The return filing date deadline of GSTR-1 for July, that was to end on Sunday, has also been extended by a month till October 10.

“Since the work is huge, the Council decided a new schedule itself for filing returns. Because of the load on the system, we want to give adequate time to taxpayers,” Jaitley told reporters after the meeting.

“There are transient challenges in technology. The Council decided to appoint a committee, the composition of which will be announced in a day or two. It will consist of ministers who will interact with GST to ensure a smooth transformation,” he said.

The decision was taken after the Council reviewed the functioning of the GST Network (GSTN) platform. A detailed presentation was given to the members by GSTN officials.

Jaitley said the portal did face technical glitches on two-three occasions due to overload.

The eight-hour long meeting was the 21st meeting of the Council.

The council also decided that food items sold under a trademark registered as on May 15, 2017 and also under a name on which exclusivity can be claimed by actionable claim, 5 per cent GST will be charged.

Jaitley said this was done to do away with the disparity created in the trade, as some of the food items sold in open categories had zero GST while branded and packaged had five per cent. He said a section of food industry was getting their registered trademark deregistered and was selling the food items either under a deregistered trademark or under corporate name.

A detailed presentation was with regard to migration of old registrants to GST from earlier regime. On GST revenue collections and distribution of money to the states, he said though the overall collection has been quite robust with more than 70 per cent of the eligible registrants for July filing, the figure of approximately Rs 95,000 crore for July was paid and some spillover of VAT collections of June were also be added

Jaitley said that there is still a very large unutilized IGST, which is used as credit for payment of CGST and SGST and for July out of Rs 48,000 crore IGST, approximately Rs 10,000 crore was adjusted between the Centre and states. He said Rs 37,000 crore is still lying which will be used in subsequent months.

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GST to be launched on June 30 midnight in Parliament

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The new indirect tax regime — The Goods and Services Tax (GST) — will be launched at the midnight of June 30 in the Central Hall of Parliament in an hour-long event that will evoke memories of the “Tryst with Destiny” moment of 1947.

President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda will be among those who will attend the special event, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told a press conference here.

On the midnight of August 14-15, the country ushered in Independence from British rule with a special function in the Central Hall in which the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, made his now famous speech “Tryst with Destiny”.

“GST switch-over will happen from June 30 midnight. Late on June 30, a programme will be organised in the Central Hall where all Members of Parliament, state Finance Ministers, Chief Ministers and officials who assisted in (the rollout of) GST and chairpersons of the Empowered Committee will be present,” he said.

“GST will be launched exactly at midnight,” he said.

Acknowledging the role of previous governments in readying the GST, Jaitley said: “Many governments have played an important role. The UPA government announced GST in 2006 and the Constitutional amendment was introduced in 2011. GST was passed unanimously by Parliament in 2016.”

Both the President and the Prime Minister will speak on the subject and two short films on GST will be screened in the Central Hall.

So far, apart from Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir, all the states have passed the State GST (SGST) law. Jaitley said that while Kerala will pass the SGST this week, the process was still on in Kashmir.

“If any state is left out of GST, the traders and consumers both will suffer. Traders will not get any input tax credit,” he said.

Jaitley said since a two-month period relaxation had been given to traders in filing returns, businesses will get ample time to get ready for the new indirect tax system.

“In July and August, we have extended the date for filing the monthly returns. Industry and trade have to prepare themselves, it’s not a very complicated system,” he said.

“No one has any business not to be ready. Now the readiness will be determined by September 15 when the traders have to file the first return. If the trader will still not be ready, probably he doesn’t want to be ready,” he added.

Talking about the new indirect taxation system, Jaitley said that in the medium and long term, GST, being a more efficient system, will check tax evasion resulting in increase in revenues.

“States and Centre’s revenue will increase. It should have positive impact on GDP. Size of formal economy should increase. In short term, there could be some challenges. But in the long run, the number of assesses will increase,” he said.

Jaitley said till last week 65 lakh traders had registered themselves under GST.

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Is a consensus possible on the new President?

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For a party known for its hubris, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) decision to consult the opposition for a consensus on the presidential candidate has come as a pleasant surprise.

However, it is possible that its majority in the electoral college has enabled the party to display a show of magnanimity.

At the same time, the Information and Broadcasting Minister, Venkaiah Naidu, has reminded the opposition parties that although the consultations will take place in the “true spirit of a democracy”, they must remember that “the mandate of the people is for the government.”

Naidu is one of the three chosen by the BJP to interact with the opposition. The other two are Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

However, the chances of a consensus candidate being chosen will brighten only if the BJP refuses to abide by the wish reportedly conveyed by its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), that the party must utilise the advantage of a majority in the electoral college to choose a person who is a Hindutva ideologue.

Considering that the RSS has succeeded in planting saffron aficionados in a fairly large number of “autonomous” institutions, including the Indian Council of Historical Research and the Indian Council of Social Science Research, it is unlikely to be hesitant about having a man of its choice in Rashtrapati Bhavan — the best prize of all.

Perhaps reading its mind, the Shiv Sena had suggested RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s name as the next President. The Maharashtrian party may have also wanted to test the BJP’s sincerity to the cause of Hindutva, for it has said that Bhagwat will be a good choice to turn India into a Hindu rashtra (nation).

However, after Bhagwat himself turned down the proposal, the Sena has opted for M.S. Swaminathan, known as the father of India’s “green revolution” in agriculture. The name of E. Sreedharan, the engineer who built the world-class Delhi Metro, has also been mentioned. Needless to say, both are eminently suitable for the high office if only because of their distance from politics.

There might have been a faint chance of a compromise between the BJP and the “secular” parties if L.K. Advani’s name was put forward. However, the BJP’s margdarshak (visionary) has not been a favourite of the RSS ever since he praised Mohammed Ali Jinnah during a visit to Pakistan. Indeed, he had to leave the party president’s post soon afterwards.

More recently, however, his involvement in the Babri Masjid demolition case as a “conspirator” has effectively ruled out his chances. Similarly, Murli Manohar Joshi, who is known to be close to the RSS, has also lost the opportunity for making it to the big house on top of the Raisina Hill because of the Babri Masjid case.

Cynics have said that the reopening of the case against them by the Central Bureau of Investigation was meant by the powers that be to keep them out of reckoning, for neither of them is believed to enjoy Narendra Modi’s trust.

However, another person, who was not delighted with Modi’s elevation in the BJP before the general election, viz. Sushma Swaraj, has come to the forefront. She has several plus points. One is her humanitarian acts as the external affairs minister where her help is required by, among others, by stranded NRIs and ailing Pakistanis. The other, and more important, is that she is believed to enjoy the backing of the RSS.

Among the other front-runners are Draupadi Murmu, the governor of Jharkhand, and Sumitra Mahajan, the Lok Sabha Speaker.

The choice of Murmu, a tribal, will enable the BJP to reach out to one of the most neglected communities in the country, about whom the now virtually forgotten but undoubtedly their foremost leader, Jaipal Singh Munda (1903-1970), told the Constituent Assembly that “the whole history of my people is one of continuous exploitation and dispossession by the non-aboriginals of India”.

It is clear that none of the BJP’s opponents will oppose her choice for obvious reasons. But whether Murmu herself will be interested is unclear, for the President’s post can be the end of the road where a political career is concerned. Being 59 years old, a relatively young age for a politician, she may be unwilling to put a full stop to any further advancement in politics. Rumours have it, therefore, that she is keener on a cabinet berth at the Centre.

A consensus is also possible on Mahajan, for she has shown herself to be temperamentally calm. But this may be the very reason why the RSS is said to be against her.

In less fraught times, it may have been possible to evolve a consensus on the former Lok Sabha Speaker, Meira Kumar, who, as a Dalit and with a distinguished lineage — she is Jagjivan Ram’s daughter — may have had claims similar to Murmu’s for being selected for the highest constitutional position in the land.

But her Congress background ruins her chances straightaway in view of the BJP’s avowed intention of making India Congress-mukt (free). Moreover, the RSS would have been appalled to find a Congress person once again becoming the President.

If the Congress is an untouchable for the saffron lobby, so are the Muslims, which is why the Vice President Hamid Ansari did not have a chance. And there is no one like A.P.J. Abdul Kalam around, who was a nationalist despite being a Muslim, as Minister for Culture Mahesh Sharma said.

The Left parties have been pushing for Gopal Krishna Gandhi, a grandson of the “chatur bania” (clever trader) as BJP president Amit Shah descried Mahatma Gandhi.

But for all his credentials — a former governor and diplomat and related to the Mahatma and C. Rajagopalachari — his palpable secularism is a black mark where the Modi dispensation is concerned.

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