June 1, 2013 by thejalebichronicles
Malice in Wonderland: Scorn for mainstream information that will shatter the image of Wonderland that we all have of the world.
Just when you thought Dhoble saheb’s absence was a reason to party, the Government of Maharashtra pressed a glowing red buzzer and said, “Um, wrong answer!” With manmade drought haunting large expanses of rural Maharashtra and not much space left for sugar factories to germinate, the government seems to be looking at the state’s western shore to boost its revenue. LBT seems to be the name of their magic pill.
Local Body Tax, LBT (better known as: Leave Bombay Today,) will give local municipal bodies the powers to impose a tariff on traders and businessmen for the import of goods into their respective areas of jurisdiction. Unlike Octroi, which is collected at octroi nakas, LBT will be paid through cash, cheque, demand draft or even online.
Traders are required to make an inventory of goods they have imported during the month, feed this information into a software provided by the municipal corporation and compute their own liability. All of this seems like a good idea, right? The computerization will reduce the chances of corruption at toll nakas, added transport costs will be cut, etc. So, what’s so bad about LBT after all?
Well, not much, except that LBT includes a lot of paper work. This may require assistance from a professional for a fee and not all traders can afford that. Traders are also angry about the double taxation they will face if LBT becomes a reality since VAT is already imposed nation-wide.
Even if LBT is implemented, traders doubt the practicality of it. According to Hozefa Ghadiali, who owns a computer hardware business in Mumbai, “Gujarat is collecting LBT but along with VAT, just an extra 1% or so, but there is no need to have to windows to pay both taxes. LBT will be collected by BMC, which, in my opinion, could be the most corrupt organization of India. Since the BMC will be collecting LBT, its officers have the ultimate powers to conduct raids in the name of compliance and keep doing vasooli from traders.”
Traders are also skeptical about reporting to one more department and see this as a chance for corruption to flourish. Angry traders had shut shop for almost a week and are now threatening to do the same. However, the average citizen is disappointed at being held ransom by the shortage of availability of essential goods if this on-again, off-again strike goes on.
Sharmishtha Thackrey, a consumer and film making student from Mumbai, stresses that LBT can turn out to be a good thing for the consumers. “LBT is replacing Octroi, which all the shop keepers evade,” she says, “but do not pass on the benefit to us. They pay less and charge us the actual amount. This is too one-sided. LBT will bring prices in control. It’s not like VAT prices will not go up.”
Although the Chief Minister of Maharashtra says he is open to dialogue with the traders, the government of Maharashtra refuses to stand down on the issue of LBT. As expected, the state’s opposition is rooting firmly for the traders. Ramesh Solanki, Mumbai divisional secretary of the Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Sena, cites LBT as an unreasonable law. “LBT is unfair,” says Mr. Solanki. “I support the traders. The economical situation is very tough and the new tax will kill businessmen and traders.” Interestingly, Suryanarayan Ganesh, an INC (Indian National Congress) affiliated consumer strongly backs LBT. “Fully support it, LBT is ideal way to prepare for GST. Octroi is prone to much more corruption, that’s why traders prefer it.”
Neither the government nor the traders are ready to compromise their positions. Meanwhile, citizens can be found scrounging at the bottom of our refrigerators for that last carrot. Whether the economic situation of the state will get better or not, one really cannot say. It seems, however, that no matter what we do, the Government of Maharashtra won’t stop hitting that glowing red buzzer. The question remains, is LBT really the wrong answer?
– Paloma Sharma