In GST Council dominated by BJP ministers, moves afoot to get Minister Krishna Byre Gowda back on board


US-educated Congress minister was an authoritative voice from the South on diverse tax issues.

Bengaluru: When the GST Council meets next, Cooperation Minister Bandeppa Kashempur will represent Karnataka, not Rural Development Minister Krishna Byre Gowda, as before. The quiet change happened three months ago at the request of Gowda himself for reasons apparently related to JD(S)-Congress coalition politics.

Two meetings have been held in Delhi since Kashempur was appointed to the Council on March 14, and Karnataka was represented by only its Finance department officials. The Cooperation Minister said he will attend the next one. “I was advised I need not attend the June 21 meeting as subjects related to Karnataka was not on its agenda. I will be attending the next one, and the Finance department is in touch with me on this,” he told ET.

After an eventful two plus years on board the GST Council, Gowda quit on February 12. During this period, his performance was noticed by the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, then Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia, and ministers and officials of other states. Jaitley and Adhia were generous in their praise of Gowda’s as well as Karnataka Finance department’s contribution to smooth rollout of the GST and in fine-tuning of the processes.

Gowda has not revealed why he quit. In fact it was Siddaramaiah, as the CM, who appointed him to the Council after then PWD minister HC Mahadevappa turned in a dull performance. Gowda, on the other hand, stood out with his clarity in presentation and articulation. After the regime change too, CM HD Kumaraswamy continued with Gowda, though he held the Finance portfolio with himself.

When Gowda decided to step aside from the GST responsibilities, Kumaraswamy reluctantly accepted his resignation, and appointed Kashempur in his place. The Rural Development Minister, when contacted, did not want to share why he quit the GST panel, but wished to say that it was a great learning opportunity. “Working at the national level in a Constitutionally-mandated important decision making body gives unparalleled exposure to public policy. I was also able to contribute thanks to the support I got from the officers.” He, however, added the decision to leave was his own.

Since the Cooperation Minister is yet to get on to the job, subtle efforts are underway to persuade the Rural Development Minister to return to the GST Council, and the CM too is said to be amenable to the idea. “The factors that provoked Gowda to resign no longer exist. We hope he will agree to re-nomination, and continue to represent Karnataka’s interests,” a government source said.

The 46-year Congress Minister has developed a grip over matters related to public finance, taxation, centre-state relations, devolution of central funds, etc. and strongly pitched Karnataka’s case in GST Council meetings in his own inimitable style. In fact, he made an impressive speech before NK Singh, Chairman of the 15th Finance Commission, when the team visited Bengaluru last week, highlighting Karnataka’s challenges and the need for better support from the Centre.

According to a former tax commissioner, Karnataka is helmed by competent officers at both Finance and Commercial Taxes department, but they lack the authority only a minister can exercise. He recollected occasions when the chairman of the now-defunct Empowered Council of State Finance Ministers (previous avtar of GST Council) barred officials from speaking. He even passed an order to this effect.

Quite a few states, the former official said, looked up to Karnataka because it is one of the very few large states with a non-BJP government. It is also the only dominant voice from the South from a political standpoint. Karnataka is home to diverse industries from manufacturing to technology services with its own unique GST issues.

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