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18 January 2017 Editorial

 

18th January 2017 

A wake-up call

A flurry of videos has emerged in the social media in recent days showing jawans of both the paramilitary forces and the Army complaining against a host of issues from diet to colonial-era practices. While these are disciplinary breaches, they are a good reason to initiate a detailed study into the internal health of our security establishment. The present lot of videos began early last week when BSF constable Tej Bahadur Yadav posted a series of them complaining about burnt parathas and watery lentil curry served along the Line of Control. It was almost as if he was opening the floodgates. From the Army, Lance Naik Yagya Pratap Singh of 42 Infantry Brigade expressed his grievances against the sahayak system. He alleged that professional soldiers were being forced to wash clothes, polish boots and walk dogs for senior officers, and that he was being victimised with court martial proceedings for complaining against the practice. Nursing Assistant Naik Ram Bhagat of the Army complained in another video about their rations, that they were only getting about 40 per cent of the menu items allotted. He also complained about the buddy system in the Army, in which soldiers are deputed to be with officers and end up doing their personal chores. Yet another video of an Army jawan showed him singing about the difficulties they face and discrimination by officers. He spoke about leave being denied for 10 months, poor food and other issues.

The videos quickly grabbed national attention. From the Prime Minister’s Office to the Army chief, the senior leadership has been quick to respond. Both the PMO and Home Minister Rajnath Singh sought an immediate report from the paramilitary forces, while Chief of the Army Staff General Bipin Rawat ordered the provision of grievance and redress boxes. However, many of the responses, especially from the middle- and senior-rung leadership of the Army and the paramilitary forces, spelt almost outright denial. Without doubt the videos are serious disciplinary breaches, and they must be viewed keeping in mind the possibilities of such rampant access and use of social media ending up assisting the enemy. The resort to social media to air grievances could compromise national security, especially when the forces are in sensitive locations. But that should not take the attention away from the larger malaise reflected in them, and it is in tackling them that the senior leadership, both in the executive and the security establishment, must spend time now. The videos are a wake-up call.

In the nick of time

The Goods and Services Tax Council has made some breakthroughs on outstanding negotiables that were holding up the introduction of the indirect tax regime. A compromise has been reached between the Centre and the States on the formula for administrative control over taxpayers under the GST, which will subsume myriad existing State and Central levies on commercial activity. By giving up on its formula to split such control by assuming the authority to levy GST on all services entities and manufacturing firms with ₹1.5 crore or more annual turnover, the Centre has shown a willingness to meet the States more than halfway. The new control-sharing system appears simpler to administer. Now, 90 per cent of all GST assessees with a turnover of up to ₹1.5 crore will come under the watch of the States and 10 per cent under that of the Centre, with both getting to assess half of the firms with a turnover over ₹1.5 crore. More important, it gives States, many of which had claimed at recent GST Council meetings revenue losses following the demonetisation of currency notes, the leeway to claim that they have struck a better deal with the Centre on a reform that is now inevitable.

With the Centre finally laying to rest its hopes of an April 1, 2017 rollout and eyeing a ‘more realistic’ July 1 date, it has some room to tinker with a few indirect taxes in the Budget to provide a short-term pre-GST stimulus to the economy that is facing a flurry of growth downgrade projections. Since the trickiest issues between the Centre and the States are now resolved and only legislative drafts remain to be approved when the Council meets next on February 18, it is an opportune time to address some of the concerns raised by another key stakeholder — industry. Firms have indicated they would need about six months to gear up for the new tax regime once the laws, rules and all the minutiae of implementation, including the rates for different products and services, are known. More clarity and finesse are also needed on the harsh penal provisions, including the power to arrest, proposed in the draft GST law (that lists out 21 offences) and the creation of an anti-profiteering authority that can act against firms that fail to pass on benefits of tax rate cuts to consumers. While it is important to protect the consumer, a clear rule-based framework is necessary to ensure that one of the biggest gains envisaged from GST — an exponential change in ease of doing business — isn’t scuttled by fears of a return to inspector raj. For a government committed to ending tax terrorism, taking a step back to meticulously review the possible gaps between intent and implementation may be worthwhile — even if it means delaying the launch by a few fortnights.

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