Amid growing unrest in Jammu and Kashmir and the perception of its difference from the rest of the country, the government seems to be sending out a strong signal to everyone about not only the importance of the valley but also of the intent to bring back normalcy to it.
This comes through the decision to hold a crucial meeting related to the new Goods and Services Tax regime that the union government is planning to implement from July 1, of this year, in Srinagar.
With the state embroiled in protests since last year and growing incidents of violence, the location for the meeting is being seen as a strong political message. The two-day meeting to be held today and tomorrow will be chaired by Finance Minister Arun Jaitely and is to be attended by around 150 dignitaries including finance ministers and secretaries of all states along with those of three union territories.
The meeting, for which additional forces have already been deployed, is to be held at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre in Srinagar, to take final decisions related to the new tax regime and finalise the rates of different commodities and services.
The state government which is run by a coalition of the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's PDP and the BJP, is keen to show the state's intent to be part of the growing national narrative which the GST is trying to achieve by uniting the country as a single market for trade, and has already taken other steps such as moving the financial year to January-December period and implementing a universal benefits policy.
Jammu and Kashmir Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu is reported to have said, "We could look at agreements that the GST council is expected to reach during its consultations as a 'Srinagar Declaration'. All the finance ministers arriving here are struck by the potential of the state and its tourist attractions."
Talking to leading national daily he said "In 1991 the entire economic regime was changed and no state was consulted. Today, even on a change in rate, everybody is consulted. This is the emergence of a new federal India." And he lauded the new the GST council as the first federal council and as a new concept which has to be seen in a new light.
According to the minister the state will need to make some technical changes to be able to fit into the new regime as there exists a difference between the tax implementation in the state and rest of the country as all other states in India levy taxes under article 247 of the constitution of India and J&K levy taxes under section five of the constitution of J&K.
As the state is marred by incidents of violence ever since the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani last year, and the following protests leading to repeated clashes between protestor and security forces and the continued aggression from Pakistan along the border, the meeting is being seen as a major effort by the government to push the narrative of socio-economic integration of the state with the rest of the country.