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Property axe on Metal Box

All property owned in the city by Metal Box India Limited (MBIL) — closed now for over 12 years — may soon be taken over by the government to realise sales-tax dues amounting to Rs 71 crore.

Government officials listed the following ‘high-value’ MBIL real estates in Calcutta: industrial unit at B2, Hyde Road; six flats at 13, D.L. Khan Road; two flats at B/6/1, Alipore Estate, on Alipore Road; three flats at 8/7, Alipore Road and a research division spread across 70 cottahs off Durgapur Bridge, in the New Alipore police station area. The government’s ‘attachment move’ follows a similar step taken by the Tamil Nadu government to realise Rs 7 crore in sales-tax dues from MBIL.

Metal Box is one of the 32 companies not to have paid sales tax to the government for years. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta withheld comment: “These things will be mentioned in a document to be made public by January 31.” Secretary of the industrial reconstruction department Sunil Mitra said: “Our financial condition is not good and this is part of an attempt to mop up additional revenue.”

Metal Box was started 70 years ago by Robert Barlow on Hyde Road. B.M. Khaitan became chairman in 1984 and after the Khaitans’ exit, Vinod Krishna stepped in. The company was referred to the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) in 1988, as units started closing down from the mid-1980s — first the Faridabad factory, followed by Chennai, Mumbai and Calcutta.

In a letter on November 22, 2002, the industrial reconstruction department asked the commissioner of commercial taxes to take “legal proceeding, including attachment of property in the state”, against Metal Box as per sales-tax law. Another letter, written by the officer on special duty (technical) of the department, N. Dutta, to the director of industries, urged him not to allow “shifting of the unit on Hyde Road or demolition of plant and machinery at any other unit or its head office at Barlow House without the government’s consent”.

The commercial taxes department has identified 32 industrial units with their accumulated sales-tax arrears crossing Rs 200 crore. Jessop is a “major defaulter” and could face the Metal Box treatment, warned officials.

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