Kashmir Report

In Jammu and Kashmir, the GST debate raises concerns about the dilution of Article 370

Despite the state government’s attempt to create a consensus, there are suspicions that the new tax regime will tamper with fiscal autonomy.

“Article 370 is safe and modalities are safe. You should recognise that we are setting a precedent. If anything it is my understanding that the Union is sharing sovereignty with the states, in the taxation space,” Jammu and Kashmir Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu reportedly told businessmen on Monday evening, as the government tried to build support for implementing the Goods and Services Tax in the state.

The ruling People’s Democratic Party, in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state, has also tried to reach out to opposition parties. A lengthy all party meeting on Tuesday cut no ice. It remains to be seen whether a special session of the state assembly, scheduled on June 17, fares better.

Despite the state government’s attempt to project the GST as an empowering change, both the state opposition and traders’ and manufacturers’ bodies are apprehensive. In the sensitive state, shaken by anti-government protests over the last year, there is fear that it will erode the autonomies granted under Article 370.

“The government of India says one tax, one nation, we don’t believe in that,” said Mohammad Yaseen Khan, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Association. “This is disputed territory. Implementing GST will remove our economic independence. Maybe there is nothing wrong with GST in other states. For me, it is a different ball game. I don’t believe what they believe.”

The National Conference’s objections also hinged on questions of economic independence. “Taxation is a state subject. If the power of taxation moves to the Centre, it is a dilution of autonomy. The form of taxation is not a problem, the power of taxation remaining with the state is a core issue,” said Junaid Mattu, spokesperson of the National Conference.

‘Fiscal autonomy’

Article 370, laid down in 1949, limited the jurisdiction of the Centre in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. First, so far as the state was concerned, the Centre could only pass laws that dealt with defence, external affairs and communications. Second, laws by the Centre would only be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir if the state assembly passed a resolution approving them. Most of the laws in the state flowed from a separate Jammu and Kashmir Constitution.

The Central GST and Integrated GST laws passed by the Centre do not apply to Jammu and Kashmir as of now. The state assembly will have to pass a bill saying both the Central and Integrated GST will apply in the state. Then, it will have to pass its own GST bill, like other states. Service taxes imposed by the Centre across the country since 1994 do not apply to Jammu and Kashmir either.

The GST regime, which will usher in a single indirect tax for the supply of goods and service, from the consumer to the manufacturer, is to make the country “one unified common market”. It merges several Central and state levies into a single tax.

This is where the National Conference objects. “The (Central) government wants a one tax regime,” said National Conference legislator Ali Mohammad Sagar. “And it (the Bharatiya Janata Party) is part of the ruling alliance here. The National Conference is very firm about this: if it attacks fiscal autonomy, we will oppose it.”

For Mattu, “a simple mirror bill” reflecting the Central law would not address the unique conditions of government in the state. “This is a complex situation, it needs to be handled differently,” he said.

Both party members demanded that the state government make its position clear and keep opposition parties in the loop about the details of the proposed bill. But the all party meeting was greeted coolly by the National Conference.

“We don’t want to sound sceptical but the fact is we asked the state government to have an all party meeting and defer the special session, but they have not done that,” Mattu said. “This is a mere formality. We expected that they willl make a proposal about how to handle it but the state government is clueless.”

The other blow to autonomy, according to the National Conference, is the extension of Constitutional Amendment 101 to Jammu and Kashmir. It was passed by Parliament last year in order to usher in the new tax regime.

Drabu had argued that the state’s legislative powers of taxation, drawn from the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution, would remain unchanged. He also pointed out on Monday that this was the first time a Constitutional amendment would be debated in the state assembly. But this too, he tried to persuade audiences, would not tamper with the state’s autonomy. “States have huge power today. Our government has done nothing in the constitutional amendment which takes away the legislative powers of J&K,” he said.

‘We will be out on the streets’

The ruling coalition has the numbers to push the bills through the state assembly. In the 89 member house, the People’s Democratic Party has 28 seats and the BJP 25, besides two nominated members.

But if the state government is unable to convince various stakeholders about the benefits of the GST, it could become fresh cause for rancour in the troubled Valley. “They are here for bijli, paani, sadak (electricity, water, roads),” said Khan. “Whichever government comes to J&K, we vote for them only for that.”

Beyond that, the state government is seen as the keeper of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy. “You tell us how you will protect our special status, our economic independence,” Khan continued. “If you will not, we will be out on the roads, we will oppose it.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

Play

During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.