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‘Security’ issues likely behind new GST Council meet venue

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After announcing the next Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council meeting to be held in Srinagar, the venue was abruptly changed on Saturday to Chandigarh. Security concerns in the wake of recent targetted killings in Kashmir are learnt to have been one of the main concerns for rescheduling the meeting’s venue, which would have seen participation of officials and ministers from 31 states/union territories and the Centre.

On Thursday, the Twitter handle of the Office of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the dates for the GST Council meeting in Srinagar. “The 47th meeting of the GST Council will be held on June 28-29, 2022 (Tuesday & Wednesday) in Srinagar. @FinMinIndia @GST_Council @PIB_India,” it had said.

On Saturday, the GST Council in a tweet announced that the meeting will now be held at Chandigarh instead of Srinagar. “The 47th meeting of the GST Council will be held on 28-29 June, 2022 (Tuesday and Wednesday) at Chandigarh instead of Srinagar,” it said.

Though the official revised meeting notice does not specify any reason for the shift in venue, an official said there were some apprehensions about security for ministers and officials converging in Srinagar for the meeting given the recent spate of targetted killings. Queries sent to the Finance Ministry on this issue by The Sunday Express did not elicit a response.

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The Kashmir Valley has witnessed at least 16 targetted killings, including police officials, teachers and sarpanches, since this January. The episodes of targetted killings spiked after February 2021, when the son of the proprietor of Krishna Dhaba in Srinagar was shot inside his restaurant. On October 5, 2021, chemist ML Bindroo was killed in his shop, followed two days later by the killing of Supinder Kour, principal at Government Boys Higher Secondary School, Sangam, and Deepak Chand, teacher at the school, who were gunned down after assailants checked identity cards of the school staff. More recently, a Kashmiri Pandit employee of the Revenue Department of J&K, working under the PM rehabilitation package, was shot inside his office at Chadoora, Budgam, leading to widespread protests by people from the community. A teacher from Samba, Rajni Bala, too recently became victim of this spate of killings, while an off-duty policeman was found dead in paddy fields in south Kashmir’s Pulwama as recently as Saturday morning.

The 47th meeting of the GST Council comes at a time when some state governments are seeking extension of the GST compensation regime beyond June, when the five-year period of the guaranteed compensation scheme for revenue losses arising out of the July 2017 rollout of the indirect tax regime comes to an end. The Council had earlier agreed to extend the levy of compensation cess till 2026, but only for repayment of the borrowings made in the aftermath of the pandemic to provide compensation to states.

The Council is also expected to discuss recommendations from a group of ministers led by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, which is expected to propose a 28 per cent tax rate on casinos, race courses and online gaming.

The Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted to review the current rate slab structure under GST, will prepare an interim report and will seek an extension of its tenure in the upcoming GST Council meeting.

Discussions held so far on GST rates, inverted duty structure for sectors, except textiles, and some exemptions will be part of the interim report but a consensus on a final report could not be reached in the absence of a complete agreement within the GoM members on tweaking the tax slabs.



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