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Club-case ploy to clear the air
- Three different verdicts on two-wheeler tax

Three different decisions by three judges of the same court on one single and vexing issue have forced the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government to initiate steps to refer all related cases to a single bench and clear the confusion over two-wheeler tax.

The three decisions, given by separate benches of Calcutta High Court, have little in common. One, by Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya, granted an interim stay before the court went into a vacation last year-end, saying the case would be heard again after the vacation.

Another, by Justice Pratap Ray, decided to extend the tax-paying deadline by a month and told the government not to impose any penalty. The second hearing in this court resulted in a stay till March 4.

Yet another judge, Justice Pradipta Kumar Ray, allowed the state government to carry on collecting the tax.

State transport department officials said the government has now approached Chief Justice A.K. Mathur with a plea to club all the cases together. Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, too, is likely to take up the matter with his colleague in charge of the judiciary department, Nisith Adhikari, for his officials to fight the case “in a more effective manner”.

Adhikari himself appeared perturbed over the confusing signals emanating from the divergent court directives. “We are discussing the matter with our legal experts and will put up a strong case in court,” he said.

The transport minister, too, admitted his concern. “We have reached an impasse but we will work towards finding a speedy solution,” he said. “Three judges have given dissimilar verdicts on one particular issue, making our task more difficult… But I do not think the case is a very complicated one, for all that the court must decide is whether the state government can charge this particular tax or not.”

The city and its adjoining areas have over 200,000 two-wheelers. Five two-wheeler owners were the first to challenge the lifetime tax in court, last November. Justice Bhattacharya heard them out and then granted an interim stay till he heard the case again.

Five others then filed a petition before a vacation bench of Calcutta High Court. Justice Pratap Ray, in his order, extended the December 31 deadline for paying the tax to January 31. This order enabled the appellants to pay their tax without the penalty and the government was prompt to extend the benefit to all other owners of two-wheelers. But, in the second hearing, the judge ordered a stay on levying this tax till March 4.

The third case, heard out by Justice Pradipta Kumar Ray, had a simpler solution: allowing the state government to go on collecting the tax as before.

Amidst all the confusion, the state transport minister even took a swipe at the government’s legal teams. “I think our lawyers failed to establish the rationale behind the government’s move in court,” grumbled Chakraborty. “They should be more careful when they are explaining the government’s stand to the judge.”

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