Jairam Ramesh Says PM Modi Exploiting Odisha Tribals, Asks Why 18% GST On Kendu Leaves & 1.5% On Diamonds

Bhubaneswar: Coinciding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s marathon campaign in Odisha, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh on Monday slammed him and accused the BJP-led Central government of exploiting tribals and poor in the state through GST.

In a post on X, he said the GST brought by the Modi government is among the most badly-designed and exploitative tax structures in India.

Terming the Modi government as anti-tribal, the Congress leader said there is an 18% GST on Kendu leaves, which are collected by Adivasis and other forest-dwelling communities. Kendu leaf collection and sale is the financial backbone of lakhs of Odisha’s poorest people.

“The BJP’s anti-Adivasi mentality explains why GST on diamonds is 1.5% while GST on Kendu leaves is 18%,” he said.

Calling Modi and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik as two sides of the same coin, the Congress leader claimed that BJP’s “B-team, the BJD, has been unable to apply any pressure to get this rate changed.”

Stating that the poorest 50% of Indians pay 67% of GST, he sought to know why does the PM insist on financially exploiting India’s poor and workers, while giving tax breaks to his rich friends.

Coming down heavily on BJP and BJD, he said their official seat sharing negotiations earlier this year only confirmed what was already known: that despite officially claiming to be in opposition, the two parties are in cahoots with each other.

In the last 10 years, the BJD’s MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have bailed out the Modi government on every contentious bill, including on no-confidence motions, said Ramesh.

The BJD even supported the Rajya Sabha candidature of BJP leader Ashwini Vaishnav, who did not have enough BJP MLA voters to get elected, he said.

For its part, the Modi government has spared the BJD all the bullying and intimidation that it usually reserves for Opposition states – there has been no onslaught of ED-CBI enquiries and raids, and no meddling by the Raj Bhawan, he said.

“Can the PM come clean on his party’s association with the BJD? Is this a marriage or is it a partnership? Will the PM apologise for misleading the people of the state by having his party sit in the Opposition ranks while colluding with the ruling BJD?,” the Congress leader asked.

Ramesh also targeted Modi over the condition of Mahanadi and Kathajodi rivers in Odisha. Ground reports tell of massive encroachment of the river bed, sand mining, garbage and debris dumping, and sewage outflow, causing the slow death of Mahanadi and Kathajodi rivers, he said.

Noting that the Central government had in 2019 committed to cleaning up the Mahanadi “on the lines of the Ganga”, he claimed that the Centre has completely failed to clean up the Ganga as well.

In February 2024, the Odisha PCB tested water samples and found that it is not fit for any kind of use. “The BJP-controlled Centre and the B-team state government have collectively ensured the complete poisoning and death of these two rivers,” the Congress leader said.

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