Last week 14th GST council meeting for first time was held in Srinagar in which Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, finance ministers of all the states, finance Secretaries and taxation officials across the country are participating. Though the meeting laid financial outlay for rolling out GST across the country, however, in Kashmir large numbers of businessmen have termed the bringing of the GST Bill a ploy to further erode the autonomy granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370. The businessmen have even threatened of agitation in case they are not taken into confidence. Those who advocate the implementation of GST in JK on the pattern of other states have been claiming its benefits for the state and its economy. One of the biggest advocates for its implementation is JK’s Finance Minister, Haseeb Drabu who said that after its implementation the state will get additional Rs 1500 to 2000 crores that will help the state’s economy.
Haseeb Drabu has said that a special session of the Legislative Assembly would be called in July and the special bill will be introduced for its implementation. Even Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who remained present in the two day conclave said that JK will introduce special law to make GST applicable in the state.
Traders who are opposing bringing this law in Jammu and Kashmir are saying that being a disputed territory the state has special status under Article 370. They have apprehensions that the Government of India wants to implement the GST here which in presence of Article 370 is impossible. Trade bodies say that only if measures are taken so that there is no erosion in Article 370, then there is no problem, but for that the J&K government has to consult all members in the trader’s community. Without taking traders into confidence then implementation of GST could backfire despite its benefits. As Government thinks to get this law implemented within one or two months, however, so far, the state government had made no effort to get traders to understand the new GST system.
Those who oppose this law say that although the state government had decided to call the special Legislative Assembly session, the government seemed to have already decided to implement it in the state without consulting the trade bodies and industrialists based in the Valley. By projecting that the GST is going to benefit the state while concealing its details to its original stakeholders (traders), the latter are apprehending that it is a total surrender to the central government.
In the atmosphere of mistrust, the traders and local population feel that the efforts are being made by the Centre and the PDP government to further weaken Article 370. Majority of people including mainstream politicians are of the opinion in last many decades time to time that the Centre has already taken several steps to erode the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and now this implementation is another attempt by the Centre to put to an end to the financial autonomy of the state. The traders say that if the government has nothing to hide then they should first seek tough laws and consensus from all stakeholders to safeguard them. However, JK is not the only state where people are opposing its implementation. Even many states are opposing the GST implementation tooth and nail and believe the states financially autonomy is being weakened with the implementation of GST.
What has complicated the situation is the role of JK’s Finance Minister. When Drabu was not in power, he had vehemently opposed the GST’s implementation and termed its implementation dangerous for the state. Now he has taken a complete U turn. In J&K, central taxes cannot be directly implemented. We have our own service tax system and the laws should be seriously implemented. The traders are also apprehensive that holding the GST meeting in Srinagar just showed to the country that Jammu and Kashmir had accepted the GST implementation and in the long run it will be used as a political stunt. Given the situation in Valley the Government should never take decisions in haste instead should develop consensus and try to educate people especially traders about benefits of new GST law. If Government takes this issue non-seriously then like many other issues of past the GST could snow ball into another major controversy in the fragile political environs of state.
The editorial appeared in print edition of 24 to 30 May 2017.