The government on Monday increased the annual motor vehicles tax for private cars and some other categories of vehicles by Rs 1,000 and announced that, for the first time, fire-fighting services in “high-risk” buildings will no longer come free.
The two Bills passed in the Assembly are aimed at mopping up additional resources to battle the ongoing cash crunch.
The House passed the West Bengal Additional Tax and One-Time Tax on Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2002, raising the existing road tax for privately-owned cars, ambulances and schoolbuses, among other categories of vehicles, (see chart) by a flat Rs 1,000, with effect from January 1, 2003. The hike also covers goods carriages.
Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty told newspersons that the tax hike was inevitable, considering the inflation over the past three decades.
“Does an Ambassador or a vegetable cost today what it used to in the 1970s or the 1980s ' This hike is, however, not sudden. The finance minister had indicated in the last budget that additional revenue could be mopped up from increased motor vehicles tax,” he added.
Chakraborty, however, clarified that there would not be any hike in taxes of passenger vehicles, like buses, taxis and minibuses. He justified the increase in the annual tax of schoolbuses by indicating that their owners could always charge the guardians of the schoolchildren.
The West Bengal Contract Carriage Owners and Operators’ Association — a major body of school bus-owners in Calcutta — strongly protested the hike in schoolbus taxes. “Barely five months ago, the transport minister had assured us at a meeting that he would look for avenues to slash motor vehicles taxes. We are shocked. We don’t know how to react,” said Himadri Ganguly, Association general secretary.
Minister Chakraborty faced flak from the Opposition for bringing ambulances under the purview of the hike. Trinamul Congress MLAs said ambulances provided a critical service and so, their annual road tax should not have been increased.
The transport minister maintained that he did not see anything wrong with private hospitals and nursing homes who are offering ambulance services for money. “These ambulances are run commercially by private nursing homes and there is no reason why they should be spared. However, I will ask the finance minister whether the ambulances of charitable organisations could be kept outside the purview of the hike,” he added.
The Assembly also passed the West Bengal Fire Services (Amendment) Bill, 2002, which, among other things, said that a fee would be charged for extinguishing fires in “high-risk” buildings. The new Bill tightened the penalty clauses for violating fire-safety norms.
Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said: “We are now working out the structure of the fire-fighting fee. We will charge the fee on the basis of the scale of fire-fighting and the number of engines used.” The Bill also makes violations of fire-safety norms a cognisable and non-bailable offence and includes provisions of increasing the fine.