Srinagar: Finance minister Haseeb Drabu, who is quite eager to enforce the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Jammu and Kashmir, was a staunch anti-GST man four years ago. What changed his stance so upside down? His close ties with the BJP is probably the answer.
Drabu was the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) negotiator on the Agenda of Alliance that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Ram Madhav chalked out together with him. That collaboration may be the reason why Drabu is now so much looking forward to being on the same page as the BJP on the tricky matter of the GST.
Compare that to his past propositions. Drabu’s column in Greater Kashmir in 2013 picked holes in the GST when former National Conference finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather led an empowered committee of state finance ministers on the tax. That time, Drabu said, the GST was against “sub-national autonomy”.
In stark contrast to his current pronouncements, Drabu pointed out in his column that the GST regime would erode the power of JK to levy and collect its own taxes. He said it would be akin to “surrendering the authority”. “Indeed, if GST in its present form and shape is implemented in J&K, neither the state legislature nor the state cabinet, let alone the finance minister, will any longer have an unfettered say on taxation,” he wrote.
He went on, “In the proposed framework, the union minister can shoot down any proposal coming from the state on tax rates and on goods to be left out of GST. That this should happen to the most “empowered” state legislature, i.e., J&K, which has residuary powers, is an irreparable loss.”
According to the Drabu of those days, Jammu and Kashmir would lose “less financially” and “more politically” from the GST.
That view, which Drabu has shunned, is still keeping the government from endorsing Drabu on the GST.
“We don’t want to act in haste. We want an inclusive debate, instead of forcing the tax on people,” said a senior PDP leader privy to the discussions on the GST. The leader said that the government would not like to roll out the GST along with other states of India, but would instead prefer to wait.
Commenting on Drabu’s role in the GST debate, economist Nisar Ali said that the finance minister was doing “Government of India’s job”.
“It is the last nail in the coffin of autonomy. He (Drabu) is himself eroding Article 370. Writing that article (in 2013) enabled him to reach a position of power, and now he is eroding it,” Ali commented.