Morcha tells traders to clear dues – Hill party requests govt to extend deadline till March 31 to pay sales tax arrears

The Telegraph


Darjeeling, June 20: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has asked the traders in the hills to clear the sales tax dues accumulated during the three-year non-co-operation movement, reversing the party’s earlier directive that no arrears should be paid.

The hill party, however, has written to the state government seeking an extension of the deadline (June 30) for the payment of the dues to March 31, 2014.

In May, the state had asked the hill traders to clear the dues of around Rs 20 crore by June 30.

The Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri had written to the Bengal chief secretary last week demanding that a directive be issued to waive the sales tax. The party’s sudden u-turn is being seen as a move to keep the relation with the state government cordial.

The new decision was made public at a meeting of the traders here yesterday. The merchants from Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong gathered to discuss the recent amendment to the West Bengal Finance Act.

Recently, the state inserted sections 32 and 33 in the Act that stated traders would have to pay sales tax dues by June 30, 2013, and the government would not levy any interest or charge late fee. Those who have already paid the taxes during the agitation period will not get a refund of their interest or late fee, says the Act.

“We realised that the business community has already collected the sales tax from the common people. We cannot tell them to keep the amount with them. They should clear it,” Giri said. “They will not have to pay any penalty for the period during which taxes were not paid. We have sent a letter to Sanjay Mitra, Bengal chief secretary, stating that traders should be given time till March 31, 2014, to clear the dues.”

Hill residents had been told by the Morcha not to pay taxes or bills to the state and the Centre from April 1, 2008. People only started paying taxes from July 2011 after Morcha signed on the GTA agreement.

Electricity bills worth Rs 72 crore, telephone bills of Rs 10 crore and sales taxes amounting to around Rs 20 crore had accumulated during the non-cooperation period.

“While we hoped that the Morcha would take up the issue (with the state), we were blankly told on the face that the outstanding amounts had to be cleared,” said a trader who did not want to be named.

“During 2008-2011 when taxes were not being paid, sale tax was levied at the rate of one per cent on gold items and four per cent on garments,” said a commercial tax official.

Defaulters of sales tax returns, which are filed quarterly, have to pay an interest of one per cent per month on the total taxable amount.

“When we wanted to pay the sales tax, government employees refused to accept the amount fearing a backlash. Now, we are suddenly being told to pay the tax. The business community had helped the Morcha during the agitation and this is a big letdown,” said a trader. “We cannot clear it in such a short time.”

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had said the dues had been waived off. “The business community could not pay taxes when the movement was on. We have waived it,” she had said on June 9, 2012. But later, the government set a deadline to pay up the dues.

B.M. Garg, president of Darjeeling Chamber of Commerce, said they would pay the tax. “We have requested the Morcha to apprise the government that we should be given a time limit of at least a year.”

Observers said the Morcha was asking the traders to pay up because it does not want to ruffle feathers with the state and it understood that the amendment had been made and it would be difficult to make further changes.

Local people fear that the hill party would now ask them to clear the electricity and telephone bills also.

But Giri said: “Under no circumstances will the public be told to clear the electricity and telephone bills.”


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