Finance minister Haseeb Drabu on Friday said the government has proven its commitment to safeguard state's constitutional position and its legislative powers while implementing the GST.
"The frenzy was created as civil society, opposition and others said implementation of GST will lead to erosion of autonomy and Article 370 and dilution of state's fiscal autonomy. I kept on saying and even hinted at times that we will ensure adequate safeguards. Today the Presidential Order on GST for J&K explains everything…we have ensured constitutional and legislative safeguards as promised by the government," he told a press conference here.
He said the protection granted to J&K's special status in the Presidential Order on GST was the outcome of an exercise that conducted for more than eight months followed by an attempt to develop political consensus and thereafter the debate in the state legislature.
"For the first time in 60 years, we have laid out a transparent, institutionalized and democratic process wherein the constitutional amendment was laid on the table of the House," said Drabu.
"There cannot be a clearer articulation of safeguards and protection for the existing constitutional position of Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
In a sarcastic tone, Drabu said during the previous regimes, the legislators would come to know about extension of Constitution of India amendments to J&K through newspapers.
"This 47th amendment (of constitution of India) is the first one that was discussed in the Assembly," he said.
He said the Presidential Order was the vindication of agenda of alliance between PDP and BJP that lays emphasis on protection of Article 370. "It (Order) proves that we have remained committed to the agenda," Drabu said.
Enumerating the safeguards assured in the Presidential Order, Drabu while quoting the Order titled 'Constitutional (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Amendment Order-2017, said the powers of Jammu and Kashmir as per Section 5 of the State Constitution shall remain intact…the legislature of the state shall have exclusive powers to make laws in respect of imposition of any taxes as enabled by Section 5 of the constitution of Jammu Kashmir."
"It takes a simple reading to understand that there is no question of any dilution of Article 370 and the powers to tax remain with the State," he said.
He said there were apprehensions raised that Article 370 would get subverted as GST Council has overriding powers. But, Drabu quoted from the order that the concurrence of the representatives of J&K in the GST Council shall be mandatory and the procedure provided under Article 370 shall be followed.
"If the GST Council goes to the Parliament and wants to make changes, no such amendment shall have effect in respect of Jammu and Kashmir unless applied by the order of the President under clause 1 of Article 370. This takes care of Article 370," said Drabu.
He said all the safeguards taken up by the state with the government of India have been ensured in the order. "We haven't lost any of our competence," he said, though he agreed that the rates would be decided by the GST Council.
To a question, Drabu said the separate GST wasn't "even worth consideration" as it would have required amendments in the Constitution of India. "We can't enforce it on India as J&K has acceded to India, and India has not acceded to J&K," said Drabu. "In the alternative model that was suggested, apart from Constitution of India, we would have to amend Section 5 of Constitution of Jammu Kashmir, which is not possible. It is very impractical."
The FM said administrative matters in GST don't form a part of constitutional amendment and they would be notified separately.
Responding to another question, he said financial integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India was carried out from 1956 when income tax, excise duties and CST were extended to the state. "Till 1951, there was nothing of that sort. The union has been levying taxes here for the past 60 years."
"So there is no question of financial integration now," Drabu said.
To another question that National Conference has termed extension of GST as erosion of Article 370, Drabu said: "There is a huge issue on what National Conference has done. I am happy to take suggestions from all people but when you have a track record of complete deceit exemplified by 1975 amendment order, which was not seen by anybody, which had been discovered by somebody what had happened, where barriers were put on amending the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, what can you say then," Drabu said. "Today, we have the Constitution that cannot be amended by legislature on certain matters. The 1979 and the 1986 amendment orders virtually removed the residuary powers of Jammu and Kashmir. The President of India issued an order in 1986 saying union can legislate on matters of state list. Now what residuary powers are you talking of."
Hitting out at the National Conference Drabu said the party cannot take "high moral position" today.
"They have changed their stand on GST four times," said Drabu.
Meanwhile, while introducing JK-GST Bill 2017 in the Assembly on Friday, finance minister Haseeb Drabu made two rather unusual requests to the Speaker, Kavinder Gupta.
He sought separate directions to two opposition MLAs — one to salute him from the Well of the House and other to resign as a legislator.
He said that National Conference MLA Devinder Rana while participating in the discussion on the GST resolution, had said he would salute him (Drabu) from the Well of the House if the adequate constitutional safeguards vis-a-vis Article-370 of the Constitution of India and Section-5 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir were included in the preamble of the Presidential Order on the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Jammu and Kashmir.
"Now that these safeguards have been ensured in the Presidential Order a direction may be given that he (Rana) salutes me whenever the next session takes place as he is not present in the House today," Drabu said.
Referring to Congress legislator GM Saroori's remark that if the safeguards were included in the Presidential Order on GST, he would resign as a legislator, Drabu said a direction should also be issued to the Congress MLA asking him to resign as the condition set by him was fulfilled.