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Bloc sniffs CM ploy in tax row

Calcutta, Sept. 17: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s remarks on collection of tax by the agriculture-marketing department has created a ripple in the Forward Bloc. A section of its leaders feel the chief minister is trying to shift focus to an insignificant issue to divert attention from the health and education portfolios, both under the CPM.

The CPM has been facing embarrassment of late following the baby deaths at B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children and the marksheet scandal. So much so, that the party was forced to ask West Bengal Board of Secondary Education president Haraprasad Samaddar to resign.

To divert attention from these issues, the CPM has raised the question whether the agriculture marketing department can collect tax on agriculture products, some Bloc leaders said. Bhattacharjee had expressed displeasure over the taxation in a Left Front meeting on Friday. He also ordered that tax collection be stopped immediately.

The friction increased after agriculture marketing minister Chhaya Ghosh refused to stop tax collection and justified her department’s move. Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh today said the party wanted a bipartite meeting with the CPM on this. “The date for the meeting has not been fixed, but we are expecting the CPM to call us soon,” Chhaya Ghosh said.

Ghosh said at Writers’ Buildings yesterday that Bhattacharjee was not dissatisfied with her department’s decision to collect tax on agriculture products. “The state marketing co-operatives don’t get financial assistance from the state government. The government auditors examine the income and expenditure of such co-operatives, and accounts are controlled by senior government officials, including district magistrates. There is no scope for financial irregularities in such bodies,” she claimed.

The situation turned critical after Citu leader and general secretary of All Bengal Regulated Market Employees’ Union, Subhasis Majumder, recently hinted to corruption in some co-operatives. The Bloc-dominated trade union, TUCC, had opposed Majumder’s statement. Biman Bhowmick, TUCC general secretary, has issued another statement.

“The state government does not have any responsibility in running the co-operatives. Naturally, the tax raised from agriculture products is not deposited with the treasury. We are running the co-operatives and societies for the past 25 years. We are running an expenditure of Rs 20 crore to pay employees of the co-operatives. Despite this, the Citu leader had issued the statement to malign the agriculture marketing minister,” Bhowmick said.

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