What Arun Jaitley said vis-à-vis implementation of GST in JK State in May, 2017 differs markedly from what he has been saying over the last week of June? In May, Jaitley was in Srinagar savouring the red carpet rolled out by state government with state Finance Minister—Haseeb Drabu in the forefront of proceedings. The proceedings concerned rolling out various aspects of GST. Hardly a soul with an insight could have missed the motive behind the meet in serene surroundings of Dal Lake. Rolling out the red carpet was meant to make GST palatable for people of JK State, as well as an attempt to mark its inevitability. Hardly a note of dissent was registered by ruling PDP. Instead, a willing embrace seemed to be on cards.
Arun Jaitley came with a placebo, by making out that JK State would have to take a call on GST within the ambit of its own constitution. He did say it, but did not mean it. Jaitley's pronouncements over the last week belie what he said in May. On June, the 30th Jaitley's take was completely different in AAj Tak conclave on GST (GK: July 1). The tone was unmistakably strident. Threatening that JK will suffer crippling losses, Jaitley said, "The parties concerned need to reconsider their position and build a consensus on GST, because the consequences of not implementing it would be terrible for the people of J&K.''
Gone was the considerate tone of May, outlining that JK State would take a call within the ambit of its own constitution. Instead, Jaitley was by implication prompting the mainstream parties to fall in line in the consultative meeting organized by JK Government. He took note of some participants in the all-party consultative meeting on GST voicing apprehensions that adopting GST would lead to the economic integration of the state with the rest of the country, an integration they were opposed to. Jaitley had opposition NC in view, its opposition obviously prompted by putting the ruling PDP on wrong foot. On another note, Jaitley named former JK Finance Minister—Abdul Rahim Rather as heading the GST preparatory committee during his ministerial tenure. Jaitley mentioned it during his GST presentation in midnight gala event in central hall of Indian parliament.
Jaitley did talk of Article 370, however it was contextual, "J&K has a different system because of the Article 370 giving it special status. There, the state government has to pass an order on GST, which has to be countersigned by the President." Jaitley was merely stating a constitutional necessity, where the JK State Government taking a call is mandatory. The call however mandates legislative backing of the view that the state government forms before it is presented to the President. The President would then be obliged to issue an order on the lines of May, the 14th 1954 Presidential Order. The question however needs to asked, the one prompted by Jaitley's pronouncements—does his take leave state government and by implication the legislature any room for legislative reframing of GST, consistent with Section (5) of JK constitution, implying state taking the call on all matters, save the subjects within parliamentary purview?
Arun Jaitley left no one in doubt, as to what JK Government needs to do, hardly leaving it with a choice or space to place its own priorities in purview. Jaitley threatened double taxation, as he related, ''state's consumers of products from outside would pay tax twice in the absence of GST, goods sent out of the state would also similarly attract double levy, making everything more expensive''. He added, ''Besides, Jammu and Kashmir would not get the benefit of the Centre's compensation to states on account of the loss in revenue incurred by implementing GST.'' It was followed by Delhi's customary divider, ''Because of such a situation arising, we could have a scenario where Jammu will want to come into the GST regime, while Kashmir will not.'' Jaitley's Jammu rider is the devious divider, which in essence amounts to compartmentalizing JK concerns.
JK's overwhelming concern, the majoritarian concern is traditionally roughed by highlighting the concern of two and a half districts. The card has been played with regularity, too often to be missed by even a casual observer. It started from early 50's of the preceding century, as Ek Vidhan, Ek Pradhan, Ek Nishan was worked out by powers that be to offset the state's overwhelming concern to retain the autonomous status until final resolution of 'K' dispute. By bringing in the Jammu divider, Arun Jaitley is repeating what is a matter of dubious historical record. Jitendra Singh—MOS in PMO has lent weight to Jaitley's voice by saying that JK Government has ''no other option but to implement GST in the state'' (GK: July 2). And, with Haseeb Drabu stating that JK is likely to clear GST by July 6 (GK: July 2) it appears that matter stands signed and sealed. Calling the JK assembly session from July 4 to July 8 could be a gimmick as NC legislator–Davendra Rana apprehends (GK: July 2).
On as important a matter as GST, which concerns daily lives, the bread and the butter, a referendum is called for—is Delhi ready to take the call, whether JK State wants a Delhi tailored GST or a tax regimen tailored to its own needs, in tune with fiscal autonomy, and in line with state's constitutional requirements?
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]
(The author is doctor in medicine, a social activist, and a senior columnist. Iqbal.email@example.com)