Old burden on consumers, dealers
Fillip to films, punch to pool
Big push to vocational training centres
Urban development takes frontseat
Salad of sops for tea & jute
Partner seat snub to CPI
Surcharge thorn in chamber bouquets
MLA urges probe handover
Dancer shot for refusal to strip
Jafri house mother at Sonia’s feet

 
 
OLD BURDEN ON CONSUMERS, DEALERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 8: 
Yashwant “Surcharge” Sinha targeted incomes. His Bengal counterpart, Asim Dasgupta, did a surcharge sequel on sales.

To do that, however, Dasgupta revived old levies and earned the wrath of industry that claimed he was moving backward, not forward.

First, he has slapped a 10 per cent surcharge on sales tax – a levy that had been abolished earlier to make way for value-added tax.

The surcharge will hurt consumers as prices of almost all goods will go up. Some essential items have, however, been exempt.

Second, Dasgupta has reintroduced a turnover tax that though marginal — 0.5 per cent — has upset dealers as they cannot pass on the added burden to consumers according to the sales tax Act.

Dasgupta cited the delay in the introduction of VAT to impose the 10 per cent surcharge on sales tax. But he has spared essential commodities like rice, wheat, tea, matches, LPG and baby food. Petrol, diesel and kerosene have also been kept out of the purview.

“The imposition of surcharge on various commodities has no relation whatsoever to the delayed introduction of VAT. This will have the impact of increasing sales tax rates across the board on all non-essential items and also a host of essential commodities (that are not part of Dasgupta’s list),” said Bhanu Prakash Agarwal, chairman of indirect taxes, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (eastern region).

Dasgupta, however, said the surcharge will have very little impact on the final rates.

Agarwal said this year’s Union budget made an effort to amend the Central sales tax Act to pave the way for VAT across the country. “(But) the state budget has hardly taken this into consideration,” he added.

In his last budget, Dasgupta had tried to simplify the tax structure by reducing the number of sales tax slabs as a run-up to the VAT regime. Several levies like entry tax, turnover tax and some surcharges were abolished.

But, Agarwal said, with the imposition of the surcharge, the state is going back to the old regime.

The turnover tax is also a return to the old regime. This tax will have to borne by dealers. Manufacturers will not have to pay the tax.

Dasgupta has also raised stamp duty from 5 to 6 per cent. He pointed out that the rate in Bengal was lower than in most states.

But industry captains said most states were now reducing stamp duties and Bengal was moving in the opposite direction.

Support for sick units

The government will provide an assistance of Rs 125 crore in 2002-03 to reopen the closed units in the state.

   

 
 
FILLIP TO FILMS, PUNCH TO POOL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 8: 
Film buffs can rejoice, but those who love their game of pool will not be pleased at all.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta has reduced the rate of entertainment tax from 15 per cent to 10 per cent in the case of Bengali, Nepali and Santhali films and from 65 per cent to 30 per cent in the case of films of other languages.

At the same time, he has slapped a 20 per cent tax on the full value of tickets for entry to amusement and theme parks – like Nicco Park or Aquatica – pool parlours and bowling alleys.

The Eastern India Motion Pictures Association, which had been lobbying for a cut in entertainment tax, greeted the announcement with “excitement and gratitude”.

Said Rabindra Agarwal, president of the trade body: “This will benefit producers, distributors and even hall owners. Though we still have to wait and watch, this decision should give a much-needed boost to the industry.”

This could translate into better halls and lower ticket prices.

But the owners of theme parks and bowling alleys criticised the 20 per cent tax. Aquatica, Calcutta’s only water park, was “very disappointed” with the state’s decision.

“In many states, a tax holiday has been granted to give such centres a chance to recover investment costs. This steep hike will severely hamper our business, and we will have to pass on the added burden to our clientele,” said Lalit Agarwal, CEO, Vishal Water World Pvt Ltd.

Science City director T.K. Ganguly feels “visitors will be highly inconvenienced by any hike. We still hope that our centre will be exempt from this tax, as it is a science education park. Many visitors to the park come from the districts and cannot afford high rates,” he added.

Bowling alleys have also taken the news of the hike hard. “This decision will adversely affect our business,” said Nicholas Yeoh, chief manager of Flight 10, a central Calcutta bowling alley.

“We have dropped our rates by almost 33 per cent this month to woo customers in the face of a huge decline in demand, but this will again force us to jack up rates.”

The finance minister said the state has been encouraging the growth of new cinemas by allowing their proprietors to retain for one year the entertainment tax they collected. The minister today extended the facility for two years.

   

 
 
BIG PUSH TO VOCATIONAL TRAINING CENTRES 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, March 8: 
The state government will focus on setting up more primary and secondary schools and vocational training centres in fiscal 2002-03. Preventive healthcare and decentralisation of curative healthcare will also be given special priority.

Presenting the budget today, finance minister Asim Dasgupta said the government will set up 4,000 child education centres, 500 secondary schools besides one vocational training centre in every secondary and higher secondary school. Trainers at these centres will be appointed on the basis of accountability.

Dasgupta said over Rs 777 crore has been allotted for education and health (including public health engineering).

“In the sphere of education, along with the spread of literacy, special priority has been given to universalisation of primary education within the 10th Plan period,” the finance minister said.

Dasgupta said for “speedier expansion” of facilities for education and employment generation from the secondary to the college level, the government would welcome initiatives in joint and private sectors. He, however, added that there would be a ceiling on students’ fees.

Dasgupta said the number of private engineering colleges was expected to rise to 50 from 37. He added that a ceiling would bind the fees of these colleges.

The minister announced that two international centres of excellence — one in bio-technology and the other in social science — would soon start functioning and the results of the research would be applied in the development of industry and agriculture in Bengal.

In healthcare, Dasgupta said, special importance has been attached to safe drinking water with a target of providing at least 40 litres of safe drinking water per head daily in the next two years.

   

 
 
URBAN DEVELOPMENT TAKES FRONTSEAT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, March 8: 
Dealers may damn and consumers crib, but finance minister Asim Dasgupta isn’t taking too many chances with the urban citizen.

Having laid emphasis on rural areas for so long, the state budget this time promises to double the plan spending on urban development in fiscal 2002-03 — from Rs 464.5 crore to Rs 889.6 crore.

The finance minister has also promised better roads. From now on, only reputed agencies will be allowed to make roads or bridges and repair them.

“It has been decided that… for development of major roads of the districts, only well-known agencies will be associated with the condition that no repair will be needed for at least three years,” Dasgupta said.

One of the new roads to come up will be the one linking north and south Bengal. This will be funded by both the state and Centre. Asian Development Bank will also provide a loan.

After better roads, better buses. The finance minister promised 300 new state transport corporation buses.

“At the same time, special emphasis has been given to improve the internal efficiency of these corporations in order to phase out subsidies.”

The government has also decided to cut down on non-plan expenditure, especially on “fairs and seminars”.

Speaking to reporters, Dasgupta came down heavily on government officials who make “fun on office account”.

“They always hold seminars during office hours. Once lunch is over, the seminar also gets over,” Dasgupta said.

For officials from the districts, seminars translate into extended weekends, the minister said. “They would come to the city every weekend on the pretext of attending seminars,” Dasgupta said.

The axe will fall on these visits.

“Officials from districts are often found coming to Calcutta in the weekends in the name of official assignments in government cars and sitting tight at home. Besides, officials in city often stay away from office in the name of attending seminars and symposiums. But, more often than not, they are found missing after lunch,” he said.

“Officials can only leave the district if they are summoned by his superiors or ministers of the departments concerned,” Dasgupta added.

The minister said in a bid to strengthen the process of decentralisation, spending on urban development was being raised.

“Keeping in view the problem of refugee rehabilitation, the plan expenditure in this sector has been raised from Rs 3.3 crore in the current financial year to Rs 13.1 crore the next year,” he said.

The minister said the plan expenditure of Rs 109.1 crore for the social welfare department in the current financial year will be increased to Rs 113.7 crore.

Expenditure on minority development will go up to Rs 14.9 crore from Rs 8.2 crore allotted last year. For backward classes, the sum has been raised from Rs 43.7 crore to Rs 55 crore.

   

 
 
SALAD OF SOPS FOR TEA & JUTE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 8: 
In a boost to the state’s traditional industries like tea, jute and hosiery, state finance minister Asim Dasgupta today announced a number of sops for them while presenting the budget for 2002-2003.

Agricultural income tax has been reduced from 50 per cent to 45 per cent. The salami charged on transfer of ownership of tea companies in case of amalgamation and merger of sick industries has also been waived.

This has evoked mixed reactions in the tea industry. Bharat Bajoria, chairman of the Indian Tea Association, said: “The reduction in agricultural income tax is a welcome step. However, we had expected full waiver in case of removal of salami for all kinds of tea companies. The minister has only restricted it to the sick companies.”

At present, the state government charges salami at the rate of Rs 15,000 per hectare in addition to stamp duty. The Assam government, however, does not charge any salami. “The industry had asked for complete removal of salami for expansion and development. Removal of salami helps the companies acquire more land for tea plantation. But the budget failed to do that,” Bajoria said.

Dasgupta said the jute industry is passing through a difficult phase. At present, 50 per cent of the tax paid on purchase of raw jute is set-off from the tax payable on sale of finished jute goods within the state.

   

 
 
PARTNER SEAT SNUB TO CPI 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 8: 
Rejecting ally CPI’s claim for a seat in the Rajya Sabha from Bengal, the CPM today fielded three of its nominees — Prasanta Chatterjee, Khabiruddin Ahmed and Tarini Roy — for the elections slated for March 27.

Debabrata Biswas, all-India secretary of the Forward Bloc, will contest the elections as a Left Front candidate. Biswas is the sitting Rajya Sabha member.

Two of the three nominees, Chatterjee and Ahmed, have recently suffered electoral defeats. Chatterjee, former mayor, had lost to the Trinamul Congress in the last municipal polls.

Ahmed ended his reign as MLA from Nakashipara in Nadia district since 1977 when he lost to the Trinamul in the Assembly polls.

Roy, the third nominee, is an influential member of the party’s Cooch Behar district secretariat. He was nominated in place of Tamang Dawa Lama who recently completed his term as Rajya Sabha member.

Roy is expected to work for the development of north Bengal districts after becoming a member of the Rajya Sabha.

Ahmed was selected to counter the growth of the BJP in Nadia district. Though not a single BJP candidate won the Assembly elections this time, Satyabrata Mukherjee, Union minister of state for chemicals and fertilisers, has put the CPM in a tight spot in the district.

Mukherjee, popularly known as Joluda, was elected to the Lok Sabha from Nadia. He has launched a number of schemes for the development of his constituency, using the MP fund.

The CPM is banking on Ahmed’s image as the son of the soil and the support he has garnered in the 24 years that he was MLA.

The CPM today stuck to its stand of not giving a ticket to the CPI though former Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta had promised tickets to the party during the 2000 Rajya Sabha polls.

Announcing the names of the nominees, Left Front chairman Biman Bose said it was not possible for his party to offer the CPI a seat this time as the political scenario had changed completely from that in 2000.

“The all-India leadership of both the parties are well aware of the developments in West Bengal in regard to the adjustment of seats among Left Front partners. Both the leaderships of the CPI and the CPM at the national level have agreed to the present seat-sharing for the Rajya Sabha polls,” Bose argued.

However, contradicting Bose’s claim, CPI state secretary Manju Kumar Majumder today accused the CPM of “forcing the CPI in accepting the unilateral decision taken by the party”.

The CPI state committee, which will meet on March 11, is likely to decide over its future course of action on the issue.

   

 
 
SURCHARGE THORN IN CHAMBER BOUQUETS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 8: 
The chambers of commerce have largely welcomed the budget proposals for 2002-03.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has termed the budget growth-oriented. “Simplification of tax procedures, such as facilities to obtain way bills electronically and seek advance ruling on the sales tax Act is commendable,” says CII deputy chairman Dipankar Chaterji.

“Long-term initiatives like reduction in the growth rate of non-essential expenditure, limit on the growth rate of subsidy and reduced dependence of state PSU’s on the exchequer, will also help reduce deficit.”

However, Chaterji feels the imposition of turnover tax and 10 per cent surcharge on sales tax is not attractive. Some of the other measures, such as enhancement of stamp duty on conveyance, would impose an additional burden of Rs 351 crore on the state’s economy and may prove to be a damper.

Bharat Chamber of Commerce president H.M. Bangur also shares Chaterji’s view that the introduction of a surcharge and turnover tax is against the objective of unification of all taxes, especially at a time when the country is moving towards consolidation of all taxes into a single VAT.

Bangur has complimented finance minister Asim Dasgupta for accepting suggestions made by the chamber.

“The minister has rightly emphasised the need for sustaining growth in industry and agriculture. Employment generation and reduction of taxes on transformers and optical fibre cables will provide impetus for growth,” he said.

Oriental Chamber of Commerce president Samar Mohan Saha feels there is nothing to cheer about in the budget.

“No specific measures have been taken to cut down on non-plan expenditure and the proposal to impose turnover tax on sale of goods exceeding Rs 20 lakh is unrealistic,” the chamber president said.

Saha, however, welcomes the proposals for reduction of taxes on inter-state sales of hosiery goods and entertainment tax.

The Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry feels that the budget is pragmatic. However, it says the revised appellate procedures for disputed amounts may pose serious hardships to dealers.

The Indian Chamber of Commerce, Calcutta, feels that the budget does not meet expectations and could have provided a stronger boost to the process of industrialisation in the state.

The chamber complimented the finance minister for achieving 7.8 per cent growth in the state domestic product and a good growth rate in the industry. However, it felt that — in the current economic scenario — the budget should have provided a greater emphasis on industrial growth.

The chamber’s members have said the 20 per cent levy on tickets for amusement parks and theme parks will affect the growth of this industry, and termed this unfortunate as these projects have a high employment potential.

The removal of “salami” on the transfer of ownership in tea gardens would help the tea sector. Concern was also expressed over infrastructure development not finding adequate mention in the budget.

   

 
 
MLA URGES PROBE HANDOVER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, March 8: 
Assam Congress MLA Chandan Sarkar demanded that investigations into his son’s abduction be handed over to Assam police as West Bengal police are in the dark about the identity of the kidnappers even after four days.

Speaking to The Telegraph from his Jateswar residence in Falakata, Sarkar said: “Despite Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s intervention, Bengal police have failed to identify my son’s abductors.”

Sarkar, who met inspector-general of police, north Bengal, Niraj Ranjan Das, at Halong in Jalpaiguri, said: “The Assam government is sending its additional director-general of police, Saradha Prashad Deshmukh, to Jalpaiguri to discuss the possibility of a joint search operation with Das.”

“Though a section of Jalpaiguri police, led by the district SP, is looking for my son, the force is handicapped by the state’s lack of intelligence network in the region. If West Bengal police cannot do anything, they should give us the go-ahead to launch a search operation of our own,” Sarkar added.

   

 
 
DANCER SHOT FOR REFUSAL TO STRIP 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, March 8: 
The cheer turned into a roar, the applause into a command. Strip.

Drink had stirred their desire and loaded guns had given them the authority. They wanted to see Anjali Devi gyrate in the nude, a 25-year-old girl who had come from Hazaribagh to dance at a wedding reception in Bihar’s Sitamarhi. A rich farmer was marrying off his son.

On the midnight of March 1, the wedding was over, and the drinks were flowing freely. But the voyeurs wanted more: a simple dance was not enough.

So, “Strip”, they commanded. Anjali fumbled. One of the baratis pulled out a gun and fired in the air. Fear leapt into Anjali’s eyes. She hesitated. But, no, she said. “I don’t do this.”

Those were probably her last words.

Anjali had come with a fellow dancer, Pummi Devi. They had been invited to come and dance.

No one’s seen Anjali since the midnight of March 1. It was Pummi Devi who lived to tell the tale. She filed an FIR with the Bhagalpur police on March 6 after she was rescued from the clutches of three men.

“I was told Anjali had been shot dead and I began to run,” Pummi Devi said in her FIR. “I ran from the house in the darkness and reached the Sitamarhi-Muzzaffarpur road. Early in the morning, I reached Patna and then took a train to Gaya.”

At Gaya station, she met one Prakash who appeared unusually attentive to her problems. “He promised to drop me home at Hazaribagh. I came to Sultangunge with him. But once I reached there, I found I was in trouble. Three men took turns to rape me for the next couple of days… . I screamed and attracted the attention of the local people who called the police,” she said.

The officer in charge of Sultangunge police station, M.P. Singh, said the woman’s statement has been recorded and a case registered. While Prakash is absconding, the police have been able to arrest two men, Ranjan Chowdhary and Vikash Prasad.

Singh said Pummi Devi has been sent for medical tests and further investigations are on.

   

 
 
JAFRI HOUSE MOTHER AT SONIA’S FEET 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, March 8: 
Riot victims at Shibaug municipal school had a long wait, and when Sonia Gandhi finally arrived they rushed to narrate their woes.

On reaching the relief camp with the 23-member all-party delegation, the Congress president was introduced to victims from Gulbarg and Naroda Patia colonies — the worst hit areas. Sahirabano, a resident of Gulbarg wailed: “I have lost my only son. He was studying law and was my only hope.”

The Congress president assured Sahirabano — one of the several who had taken shelter in the bungalow of former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri — that she would do something. “We have come to see what we can do,” Sonia said, adding that she had received a distress phone call from Jafri. Sonia reportedly refused to meet chief minister Narendra Modi.

The riot victims submitted a three-page memorandum to the delegation of MPs, listing their grievances against the state government. The memorandum sought a ban on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal and exemplary action against erring police officers.

The people at the camp also demanded rehabilitation in a colony exclusively for Muslims. “We want to live together because there was no casualty in Muslim-majority localities,” explained Inamul Haq Iraki.

Earlier, the MPs visited the civil hospital and a Hindu relief camp at Kankariya, where they met people with bullet injuries. At Godhra, the MPs visited the carnage site. They then went to the civil hospital and a relief camp.

However, a verbal exchange ensued at the helipad between BJP supporters and Muslims, who had gathered to submit a memorandum to the MPs. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan was heckled by a mob, which wanted him to make a statement. Mahajan only said: “We have come here to restore peace and harmony.”

Former Union minister C.M. Ibrahim and RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad, however, did not mince words, blaming the state government for its involvement in the riots and demanding its dismissal. “We were not able to see the worst-affected areas,” Ibrahim said.

At the circuit house, Muslims and Seva Dal workers waiting to meet Sonia went back disappointed.

Rushdie blasts Naipaul

India-born British author Salman Rushdie attributed the violence in Gujarat to the VHP’s “fascist agenda” and to the influence of religion on politics. He also attacked V.S. Naipaul in an article in the Washington Post, saying the Nobel Laureate had “denounced Muslims en-masse” and praised the “nationalist” movement before the riots.

   
 

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