Srinagar: Amid Opposition threats of not allowing the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) legislation in its current form, the government will today hold a special session with the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly to discuss the extension of GST to the state.
Even as finance minister Haseeb Drabu has renewed his assurances that the draft GST as it presently stands would not compromise the state’s autonomy, Opposition parties led by the National Conference (NC) and the joint resistance leadership joined business bodies to resist the government move, saying it would dilute Article 370, apart from crippling trade and business in Kashmir.
Reiterating its opposition to the GST, the NC organised a one-day orientation session on the issue at ‘Nawa-e-Subha’, during which former finance minister and senior NC leader Mohammad Shafi Uri said it was important to note that a dilution of Kashmir’s powers of taxation would be a death blow to the state’s autonomy.
Uri said GST implementation would render the state more vulnerable to the extension of “more central laws through presidential orders – something that hasn’t happened post-1977 owing to the National Conference’s stoic and consistent policy of defending the state’s special status at all costs”.
Speaking on the occasion, NC provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani said the government’s stand on the GST was still unknown. He warned that there were clear indications that the PDP-BJP government had made up its mind to extend Constitutional Amendment 101 to the state through a Presidential Order.
“Even in the all-party meeting, the state government failed to come up with its proposal to deal with this issue and had no answers to provide,” Wani said.
The NC has reiterated that the GST will compromise the fiscal autonomy and special status of Kashmir.
Awami Itehad Party (AIP) chief Engineer Rashid said the government was confused as far as the GST is concerned. He said that the government was maintaining a diplomatic silence on the matter.
“The government has no idea what to do and what not to do. We will oppose GST implementation in the current form tooth and nail. The government has not been able to allay our concerns on the controversial bill,” Rashid said.
The business community had already expressed its concern over the legislation being adopted in its present form.
President of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) Mushtaq Ahmad Wani said the main concern for the business community was that the GST as it presently stands will erode the state’s fiscal autonomy.
“The legislature will form tax laws and impose taxes. Now after the implementation of GST, the legislature will lose its power to the GST council. We will surrender our autonomy to the council,” Wani said.
“We have already asked the chief minister and the finance minister to bring in experts who will make a way out. Then they could have taken inputs from everybody including the traders, but nothing of that sort happened,” he added.
The Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation (KTMF), the largest business organisation in Kashmir, has already rejected the GST. They have stated that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory, and the intentions of the state government seem to be to directly implement the Indian law, which will affect the disputed nature of the Kashmir Valley.
Recently, during the all-party meeting on GST implementation in J&K, the government said it would implement the law by July 1, the day when the law goes into force across India.
Contrary to the Opposition’s views on the GST, finance minister Drabu claimed consensus was emerging across political parties.
“Nobody has an objection to GST, only to some modalities of its implementation. We will take it further from there,” Drabu said. He said the false bogey of the dilution of J&K’s fiscal autonomy was being raised by vested interests to distort the genuine debate over bringing the state under the ambit of the GST regime.
“Far from eroding the special constitutional position, we are seeking to empower the Legislative Assembly of the state. If our government has any mala fide intent, why would we bring it to the Assembly for debate?” Drabu queried.
The joint resistance leadership on Wednesday expressed deep concern over the proposed implementation of the GST in the state, calling it a well-thought-out plan to “cripple our trade and economy”.
The leadership comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik said the state authorities were hell-bent on harming the business community. “A few state ministers are in league with authorities in Nagpur and are being lured to implement GST in the state,” they said.