Kerala finance minister K M Mani to head states panel on GST

K M Mani, finance minister of Kerala, has been selected as chairman of the empowered committee of state finance ministers on the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

At the meeting of the empowered committee of state finance ministers last week, states had left it to finance minister Arun Jaitley to select the next chairman as many state finance ministers were busy with their own state budgets.

Mani, however, is a surprise choice as he has been battling corruption charges for the past few months in Kerala in a bribery case, where he was accused of accepting bribe from bar owners for reopening closed bars.

The selection was made after wide consultations with all the states and union territories. There was a general consensus that K M Mani, minister of finance, law and housing, Kerala, may take over as the new chairman of the empowered committee of state finance ministers.

This is also in line with the tradition of the chairman of the state finance ministers' panel being from an opposition party.

Mani is leader of the Kerala Congress (M) and is part of a Congress-led coalition government in Kerala. He was selected after consultations with states and union territories.

This is an important development as the centre aims to implement GST from 1 April 2016.

Mani will have the crucial task of achieving consensus among states on the design of the GST. He will also have to devote a substantial amount of time to oversee the implementation of GST.

The post of chairman has been lying vacant for nearly three months after Abdul Rahim Rather, the former finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir, quit following his party National Conference's loss in the state assembly elections in December last year.

Jaitley had tabled the Constitution amendment bill for the passage of GST in the winter session of Parliament after reiterating that the Centre and the states have reached a broad consensus on the main design of GST.

However, states like Odisha, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have raised concerns about some of the key features of the bill.

The empowered committee also has to formally endorse the Constitution amendment bill for the implementation of GST. The government is hoping that the bill will be passed in the second half of the budget session. The government will need the support of major political parties to get the bill passed with two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament.