As the apprehensions of Kashmir-based traders pertaining to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) are gradually turning out to be true, local business community which is already in dire straits since 2014 floods has decided to observe first anniversary of the new tax regime on Sunday as a 'black day'.
GST was implemented in rest of the country on July 1 last year and in Jammu and Kashmir on July 8 after being vetted by the state Assembly.
Jammu and Kashmir Socio-Economic Coordination Committee which was earlier knows as JKCC and was spearheading the agitation against GST has said that "surrender day of fiscal autonomy of J&K" will be marked as a "black day".
"JKSEC is determined to take forward the struggle till the GST law along with other laws is rolled back and J&K is declared a free economic zone," said Siraj Ahmad, convener, JKSEC, an amalgam of trade, industry, tourism, tour and travel, horticulture, contractor, transporter organizations and civil society formations.
Various traders who spoke to Greater Kashmir said GST is a "complex taxation" as there are three types of taxes: central GST, state GST and an integrated GST to follow adding that anniversary of GST is a "black day" for them.
"From day one all traders across the Valley have been on the same page opposing this anti-trade taxation and its anniversary holds no meaning for us. So far GST has been non-user friendly as there is a dual authority of the centre and the state with regard to this tax. It is not even clear that what is the jurisdiction of the centre and the state in J&K," said Muhammad Yaseen Khan, president, Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation.
Khan, who also heads Kashmir Economic Alliance, said post-GST prices of goods have increased by almost 20 per cent causing a slump in business. "Investments of traders to run business have increased manifold and goods have become costlier. Customers are forced to buy cheap and unbranded goods causing slump in organised markets," Khan said.
Bashir Ahmad Rather, president of his faction of KTMF said filing of returns under GST is problematic for traders adding business community has decided to mark July 8 as a "black day". "So far traders have been able to file only one return which is GSTR-1 as we are told that as software application is not ready for GSTR 2 and GSTR 3. Input tax credit verification is also unable to take place because these two returns are unable to get uploaded," Rather said.
Most traders said GST has failed to promote free flow of goods. "Introduction of e-way bill and strict enforcement is hurdle for free flow of goods," said Farhan Kitab, chief spokesman, KTMF. "Implementation of e-way billing contradicts free flow of goods while GST got rid of check posts but soon we saw multiple mobile checking teams across states leading to the Valley penalizing goods-laden trucks," says Kitab.
Goods Carrier Transporters Association, president, Muhammad Sidiq Ronga told Greater Kashmir that truckers on the way to Kashmir are being unnecessarily penalised by the taxation officials for "undervalue declaration of goods which is no means is connected to the transporters". "We accept goods consignments from traders which are packed and we are not aware about the actual number and value of goods as compared to the declaration made by them. Tax officials on the way to Kashmir off-late have been catching hold of truck drivers and penalizing them for under valuing which by no means is connected to us," Ronga said.
Technology barriers and glitches have also been a reason for "GST being a dampener" for Kashmir trade. "GSTN is the backbone of the new tax regime. Infosys is the IT implementation partner but the software application is not upto the mark. Traders who access the portal are facing issues. The GSNT and related app was not properly tested before implementation resulting in glitches," lamented another trader. Traders also believe that GST had lead to a situation that Kashmir-based traders already facing financial problems need excessive capital to procure goods as GST is deducted on source.
"Due to 2014 flood, 2016 unrest and fragile situation traders have been witnessing a major downturn. On top of that GST has made matters worse as a trader is now required to have much more working capital that what was needed pre-GST. The new tax regime has added burden to us," said Kitab.
According to an official in the sales tax department, post-GST Jammu and Kashmir fell short of revenue and Rs 1137 crore were granted as compensation for 2017-18 by the central government for the state. "For current fiscal monthly revenue of Rs 588 crore had to be recovered which I don't think is being achieved. We have clearly not been able to meet the revenue targets post-GST," said an official wishing anonymity.