Scuffles prevented by marshals, Opposition unanimously rejects ‘vague’ resolution
Wasim Khalid/Junaid Nabi Bazaz
Srinagar: The Opposition members rejected on Tuesday the resolution on the Goods and Services Tax (GST), moved by the government in the state assembly today, calling it “vague” and silent on the safeguards to the special and fiscal autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir.
The government set the ball rolling after it moved a resolution seeking discussion on the GST and suggestions on modifying it.
National Conference (NC) leader Mohammad Shafi Uri called the resolution vague in nature, having no clarity of language whatsoever.
“The safeguards to protect the special status of the state were not clearly written. After going through the resolution, it does not become clear which modification has been incorporated in the bill which will protect Article 370 and the fiscal autonomy of the state,” Uri said.
He said the resolution did not talk about the amended articles that will pave the way for the GST.
“The GST in its present form will subsume the state’s tax regime. It will subsume state and central taxes. Jammu and Kashmir’s own tax regime that we know, it will be abolished,” Uri said.
“How will you safeguard the special status? How will you do it? Can you do it? The resolution does not mention that,” he added.
Uri said the resolution was without any definite issue related to the GST. He said the fact that no safeguard regarding Article 370 finds mention, raises eyebrows.
“If the GST is implemented in this current form, it will be a step towards diluting the special status,” he said.
He asked Speaker Kavinder Gupta to use his discretion and not admit the resolution in its present form.
Uri pointed out that after GST is brought in in the state, the authority to collect taxes will remain with New Delhi.
“The control of tax administration would shift to the Centre. Those powers [special to Kashmir] will go away. Article 370 will weaken, and so will the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh,” he said.
Earlier, after moving the resolution, finance minister Haseeb Drabu said the government is committed to allaying the fears of people regarding the GST. He said that even if the legislators’ suggestions went against the resolution, the government would consider adopting it.
“This House resolves that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir may give consent to the adoption of the GST regime by application of relevant amendments made to the Constitution of India in a modified manner to safeguard the existing special constitutional position of Jammu and Kashmir in the Union of India and the legislative powers under the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir,” the resolution stated.
Responding to the resolution, Congress leader Nawang Rigzin Jora said the two most important parts of Jammu and Kashmir’s Constitution were Sections 3 and 5.
“Section 3 describes the state-centre relations, while Section 5 authorises the state to form its own law,” Jora said. “Both these sections can’t be amended as they are the basic structure of the Constitution. If somebody does so, it amounts to violation of the Constitution.”
The Congress leader said the government should find a way to implement the GST but only by making sure that Article 370 is not undermined.
He said the government does not want to do this, and is instead trying to stealthily implement the GST to erode the J&K Constitution.
“GST implementation is nothing but subterfuge,” Jora said. “When Congress tried to implement it, we wanted to levy 15 percent tax across the board. But now it is one nation and multiple taxes.”
He suggested that the state should form its own GST law to safeguard its interests.
CPI(M) leader MY Tarigami said the resolution was completely vague.
BJP leader RS Pathania said that GST implementation would not affect Article 370. He said the Opposition should give a feasible model to implement GST.
The All Party Consultative Group (APCG) has held two meetings earlier, which so far remained inconclusive vis-a-vis GST implementation.
The Opposition has said that the government is unable to present any modified form of the GST that would not compromise the fiscal autonomy and special status of the state.
The government has warned that it cannot bring a separate law as it would become a huge political issue across India.
As the session drew on, discussions gave way to acrimony, and the instant Firdous Tak, the PDP legislator in the upper house of the Legislative Assembly, stood up to defend his government’s move to implement the GST, the NC and the Congress stormed the well, raising anti-GST and pro-autonomy slogans.
Tak began to respond after leader of the house Naeem Akhtar presented a resolution on behalf of the finance minister for adopting the 101st amendment to the Indian constitution in a modified form.
Meanwhile, the media boycotted the Assembly in protest against the government’s move to restrict the movement of journalists carrying cameras inside the house. When the session began, the opposition entered the house and rushed into the well without taking their seats.
They shouted “Zameer Faroosh Sarkar hai hai, pellet sarkar hai hai, media dushman sarkar hai hai, sharm karoo sarkar hai hai”, till the chairman, Haji Inayat Ali, adjourned the house for half an hour. When the house became functional again, the noise continued. When Tak attempted to respond, the chairman asked him to continue his speech.
“You talk about autonomy that was eroded by none other than you. You handed over seven power projects to the Centre whose brunt is now borne by the state. You did not even sign an MoU with them, forget about other things. And today you teach us autonomy,” replied Tak.
Continuing his arguments in support of the GST, Tak said, “The state has only Rs 21,000 crore income and it pays Rs 24,000 crore to employees only. See, I am not counting components of capital expenditure. Now, post-GST regime, we will have Rs 35,000 crore income. Why should we not implement [it]? Yes, the opposition has concerns about fiscal autonomy; it will be protected anyway.”
“Why is not the government telling us how they are going to protect it? Saying and doing are two opposites,” responded NC legislator Sajad Kichloo.
While the verbal dual continued, someone from the opposition tore up papers and threw them towards the Chairman. Then PDP legislator Zafar Reshi stood up holding a report and fired it towards the opposition benches. They responded in the same vein. Tak’s speech was interrupted.
Reshi tried to move towards Kichloo but was stopped by marshals. He also lifted a glass and tried to throw it at the Opposition. BJP leader Sofi Yousif joined him.
“Badmashoo, choro, khoon kharab app nae kiya,” shouted Sofi, prevented by a marshal from fighting with the opposition members.
The house was adjourned. When it returned, the Opposition continued to protest. Leader of the house Naeem Akhtar asked the chairman to expunge all unparliamentary remarks, and the chairman agreed. Amid the uproar, the house was adjourned for the day.