The Goods and Services Tax Council is still a fledgling five-year-old institution that has yet to become well-settled, but acts as a vibrant forum for intense interactions between the Centre and the States, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Tuesday.
“GST (Council) is just born, it’s a five-year old and I don’t know if it has completely accomplished on very many things which are committed. It’s happening, rapidly happening and there’s a lot of vibrancy in the Council,” Ms. Sitharaman said at the Delhi School of Economics.
Ms. Sitharaman was reacting to a ‘powerful case’ made by Fifteenth Finance Commission chief N.K. Singh to set up a Fiscal Council with the Centre and States, and another such body to act as a bridge between the GST Council and the Finance Commission. She was speaking at a discussion on a book Mr. Singh has co-authored with P.K. Mishra, the principal secretary to the Prime Minister, titled ‘Recalibrate: Changing Paradigms’.
“Interestingly, we have not had the GST Council having a full-fledged, well-developed, ‘it is all settled and it’s running’ kind of a situation yet,” she noted, emphasising that Centre-State interactions were ‘continuously happening’ at the Council or through the Finance Commission itself when it visits States to assess their views vis-à-vis their terms of reference.
“The GST Council that happens once in three months ideally, and sometimes, of course, gets extended to the fourth or fifth month… are all intense interactions between the Centre and the States in the capacity of the Council. When we are seated there, we are seated as equal members. There are no artificial lines between the Centre and the States in the Council,” she asserted.
The Finance Minister also agreed with Mr. Singh’s call for a greater debate on freebies, acknowledging his remark that the politics of freebies trump the norms of more responsible behaviour. Mr. Singh said that it was important that governments ‘transparently provide’ for all subsidies and sops to citizens in their Budgets rather than adopt strategies like cross-subsidisation.