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Victory in surrender

A surrender a day to keep the blackmailers at bay seems to be the formula of the state government, as it waits for normal life in the city to be pushed to the brink before pulling it back with dramatic flip-flop.

On Tuesday, the revised tax-structure for vehicles using the state’s roadspace was kept on hold and yet another committee formed to review the government decision in order to buy time and truce with the transport lobby.

On Wednesday, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty pleaded with the West Bengal Petroleum Dealers’ Association to give him a 45-day breather to “decide anew” on the implementation of the new cess and sales tax on fuel.

The association promptly accepted the minister’s offer, calling off its three-day strike, that was to have otherwise ended on Friday, and giving the Calcutta commuter some cause for comfort.

Truckers, too, called off their three-day strike on Wednesday (Dissent Day II), lifting the spectre of a rise in the prices of essential commodities.

Officials, however, wondered whether the “victory” — if it could be called that — was a double-edged one.

From bringing back the buses, the minibuses and the taxis on the road on Wednesday to doing the same to trucks on Thursday — when all petrol pumps, too, will reopen — the government “achieved” everything by bowing down to the “blackmailers”, they argued.

Earlier this year, the state government had announced a whole new tax-structure for all vehicles on the road. From the fee for a driving licence to that for a certificate of fitness, from penalties for flouting of norms to the registration fee for a car, every single tax saw a huge jump.

The increase, ranging up to a high of 500 per cent, had most transporters crying foul.

They accepted the government’s logic for increasing taxes — they had not been raised for the past two decades — but resented the “illogical” hike.

“The whole move spoke of the government’s desperation to raise money by any means,” Bengal Bus Syndicate president Swarnakamal Saha said, explaining the initial decision to go on a strike for three days from Tuesday. That was before the government bent backwards.

Wednesday was the turn of the petrol pump-owners to call the shots. Minister Chakraborty asked them to give the government 45 days to “reconsider” its sales tax and cess plans.

West Bengal Petrol Pump Dealers’ Association secretary Joydeb Sarkar was, obviously, pleased. “The minister has asked us to consider his request and we accepted, as we felt he was being honest,” he said.

“His explanation that he was not responsible for the additional cess and tax on fuel (the onus is on the state finance department, headed by Asim Dasgupta) is right and he, obviously, needs more time to place our demands to others in the cabinet,” he added, explaining that the option for a strike was always open.

“Going on a strike is their democratic right but, seeing the situation in the city on Tuesday, we would have, anyway, forced it off on Wednesday,” claimed Sarkar.

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