The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sales tax probe against Hindustan Lever in Assam

Guwahati, Oct. 21: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi today announced an inquiry by the finance department into alleged evasion of sales tax amounting to Rs 45 crore by Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL), which recently disclosed having received a Rs 2-crore extortion notice from the Ulfa.

Gogoi said his government would not hesitate to take “necessary action” to recover its dues from HLL if the company was found guilty of evading sales tax.

HLL promptly issued a statement saying its representatives attended a hearing by the sales tax commissioner on October 16 and submitted a written reply to the allegation. It sought details of the grounds on which the sales tax department intended to review previous years’ assessments.

“On receipt of documents sought by it, HLL will again file its reply. The sales tax authorities have adjourned the case till November 6,” the statement, issued by HLL’s general manager of corporate communications, Shubhabrata Bhattacharya, said.

Minister of state for finance Nilamoni Sen Deka accused HLL of evading sales tax just a couple of days before the company disclosed having received the extortion note. The minister said the sales tax department had served a legal notice on the company in accordance with the provisions in the Assam General Sales Tax Act.

Hindustan Lever has 15 tea gardens in Assam. These gardens operate under two subsidiaries, Doom Dooma India Ltd and Rossel Industries. The government has beefed up security in all 15 gardens and provided personal security officers to Lever executives.

The chief minister said the government had made security arrangements for HLL in accordance with the “threat perception”. Taking a dig at the Centre, he said the political leadership in Delhi seemed to be more concerned about the threat to HLL than about the safety of the people.

“Our government is equally concerned about protecting HLL employees and the common people from militants. Had the Centre been concerned about the lives of the people, it would have provided more paramilitary forces, as sought by the state government, to protect the life and property of each citizen, irrespective of whether he is an ordinary person or a company executive.”

Gogoi adopted a tough stand on HLL, but gave a clean chit to Reliance, which has been facing flak from various quarters for the delay in starting the much-hyped gas cracker project in Assam.

The chief minister said Delhi, not the company, was to be blamed for the delay in getting the project off the ground. He said the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was yet to make a commitment to Reliance about subsidy on feedstock for the gas cracker industry.

The influential All Assam Students Union (AASU) has been demanding that Dispur scrap its letter of intent with Reliance Assam Petrochemicals Ltd because of the company’s failure to commission the project.

The chief minister, who has been talking of creating investment opportunities for NRIs since returning from a 20-day trip to the US, said his government had decided to appoint two officials specifically for this purpose. One of these officials will be posted in Guwahati and the other will be attached to the Indian embassy in the US.

Gogoi said Dispur planned to host a world tea conference in the state in collaboration with Tata Tea.

The Assam Association of America has invited the chief minister to its annual convention at Denver in July. “I hope to be present at the convention and give a detailed presentation with videos and documents. After all, pictures will say much more than mere words,” he said two days ago.

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