The Goods and Services Tax will be rolled out in Jammu and Kashmir from midnight, with the Assembly passing the GST Bill amid Opposition boycott Friday.
As the Mehbooba Mufti Cabinet gave its concurrence to extend the 101st constitutional amendment to the state Thursday night, President Pranab Mukherjee issued the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Amendment order, 2017, making the law applicable in the state. The order came with a rider providing “safeguards” for the state’s special status and allowing the state to retain its power to legislate on taxation under the J&K Constitution.
While Opposition parties said the “safeguards” were “mere eyewash”, the state government described it as a major victory. After the GST Bill was passed, Mufti said, “Our nation, Prime Minister, President maintained our dignity, we maintained theirs.”
The PDP-BJP government’s decision to allow GST rollout had generated controversy, with Opposition parties and trade bodies in Kashmir calling it an “impingement on J&K’s special status and a violation of Article 370”. With the passage of the Bill, the PDP and BJP both claimed victory for their respective political stances.
PDP leader and Public Works Minister Nayeem Akhtar called it “the biggest internal confidence-building measure from the Centre”. “By providing safeguards to our special status in the Union, the country has sent out a message to the people of J&K that we care for your sensitivity,’’ he told The Indian Express. “The message is clear — you (J&K) have a special position in the Union, which we have agreed to in the agenda of alliance (between PDP and BJP). Now we have shown that we are committed to protect this special status.”
He said this was the first time a Presidential order issued to extend a law of Parliament to J&K had come with a rider to protect the state’s special status. “To us, it is initiation of rebuilding of a credible political structure that will help to strengthen our special status under Article 370,’’ he said.
BJP leader and Deputy CM Nirmal Singh said the Presidential order “has in no way diluted the basic structure of the one-tax regime”. When asked about the rider, Singh said that “only those provisions that have already been incorporated in the agenda of alliance have been reiterated. However, as far as BJP is concerned, we stand by our views on Article 370 and special status for the state.”
The National Conference, however, had a different view. “It (safeguards) means nothing because the concurrence (by J&K government) to extend the GST law in J&K itself impinges upon our special status and Article 370… (Union Finance Minister Arun) Jaitley has said that to bring J&K under GST regime was politically significant because it signalled integration of the state with the Union,” said NC leader Abdul Rahim Rather. He was referring to Jaitley’s speech at a gathering on Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s birth anniversary on Thursday.
NC general secretary Ali Mohammad Sager said, “Nothing has been safeguarded. Now they (PDP-BJP government) have even surrendered fiscal autonomy to the Centre.”
Soon after the Assembly passed the GST Bill, Speaker Kavinder Gupta adjourned the House sine die. While NC legislators had already boycotted the session, the Congress too staged a walkout, terming the “safeguards” in the Presidential order a gimmick.
Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu announced at a press conference that the new tax regime would be rolled out from midnight. He said the government tried to build a consensus on GST outside the House, but that did not happen.