The imposition of five per cent goods and services tax (GST) on prepackaged cereals, pulses and other essential commodities, including milk products, will hit the common man the most. This is because 80 per cent of the consumers who buy non-branded items like wheat flour and grains belong to the poor or lower middle-class families. They have already been hit hard by the increase in the prices of petroleum products which have a cascading effect on the prices of all items and services. The Centre has argued that the decision to implement the GST, which has already come into force from July 18, was unanimously taken by the GST Council when it met in Chandigarh last month. Nobody asks whether the decision was actually taken unanimously or it was imposed on the council by the central government. That is not germane to the issue at hand, ie, the impact it will have on the common man, in whose name everything is done by the government. When it comes to money, neither the Centre nor the states are self-sacrificing. Clarifications that if the items are sold in loose, unpackaged condition, there will be no GST are unlikely to satisfy the people.
Those in the GST Council who took this decision are probably not aware of how items like wheat flour, pulses etc are obtained and sold to the consumers in tens of thousands of general provision stores. They are quite different from the departmental stores that have come up in cities and towns. Most such shops do not have proper storage facilities. If items like rice and pulses are kept in the open to be sold loose, they are likely to be contaminated, especially during the rainy season. They also have to be protected from rodents and squirrels. That is why, after procurement of these items in bulk, the shopkeepers make packets of one kg, half a kg etc. They also remain protected from dust and other harmful substances. Because of the GST, they may be forced to keep all the items in sacks, to be measured and sold to the consumer. This will add to their cost of inventory with harmful effects on the provisions sold. The shopkeepers will also have to maintain elaborate accounts to conform to the GST standards. Ultimately, what will the government gain after taking into consideration the cost of collection? That is why the decision is reprehensible.
Fact-checking is sacred and needs support
The Supreme Court has done justice to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair by granting him bail in all the cases registered against him in various towns in Uttar Pradesh. The three-member Bench headed by DV Chandrachud has also disbanded the Special Investigation Team, constituted by the UP government, and transferred all the cases to Delhi where he would be tried. What’s more, he has also been insulated from having to face new FIRs anywhere in the country on the tweets he made. The court also rejected the UP government’s demand that he be prevented from tweeting, saying it was tantamount to asking a lawyer not to argue or a journalist not to write etc. The pity is that despite not committing any criminal act, he had to remain behind bars for nearly four weeks. Even now he will have to face the charges and prove his innocence when anyone with some common sense can conclude that he did not hurt any religious sentiment when he tweeted an image from a film that was released a long time ago. There was also no riot or any such reaction to the tweet all these years. If the Supreme Court had taken a slightly proactive stance a little earlier, he probably would not have remained in jail for long.
At Alt News, founded by Zubair and Pratik Sinha, what they were doing was fact-checking. When suspicious videos from, say, other countries like Pakistan are released with the claim that they pertain to an incident in India, they check the facts to prove that they are not related to India. When a senior police officer tweeted a clip, Alt News found that it was from a Hollywood movie. Fact-checking is crucial in a country like India where throwing an animal’s body part in a religious place can lead to riots. In fact, there have been many such riots. With the rise of social media, anyone who has access to the internet can cause damage to the social fabric by publishing videos that are outrightly false but provocative. The laws should be applied against them and not against someone who prevents circulation of false news. It is also time that the legal authorities consider the need to prevent registering of multiple cases for the same crime in various parts of the country. We need more fact-checkers than merchants of hatred.