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Fee on agri-malls

Calcutta, April 12: Malls dealing in farm products in Calcutta and Howrah will have to pay a volume-driven “fee” in addition to a new licensing requirement.

Big retailers will have to cough up a “market fee” of up to 2 per cent of the value of the transaction every time they buy farm produce in the state for sale later through outlets.

The fee, which amounts to an agriculture cess, is part of a notification issued to make a seller’s licence mandatory for big retailers in the two districts.

The Telegraph had on Tuesday published a report on the notification, which was already in operation in the rest of the state, but it was not known then that the reach of the “market fee” would also be extended.

Agri-retailers now require two licences — one to buy products directly from farmers and the other to sell them. Till the notification kicked in, the seller’s licence was not needed in Calcutta and Howrah.

The notification, issued by the state agriculture marketing department and a subsidiary board, asks “businessmen, persons and companies involved in trading and storage of agricultural produce and trading through commission agents” to seek licence from the state-run market committees “immediately”.

It adds that the traders should pay a “market fee” at the rate of a maximum Rs 2 for every purchase worth Rs 100. Small retailers have been exempt. The taxable list does not cover poultry and dairy products.

The marketing department and the committees are controlled by the Forward Bloc, which has objected to Reliance’s retail entry in Bengal.

With the notification in place, retail outlets like Food Bazaar, C3, Spencer’s and big players in traditional markets like Posta and Koley will have to seek the licence and pay the fee if they source farm products from the state.

Angry retailers said nowhere else in the country were they required to seek special licences. “It is going back to the licence raj,” a retailer said, adding that legal options are being explored. But Spencer’s said it has applied for a licence.

The “fee” has been in operation in the rest of the state but officials said not much attention was paid to collecting it till now.

But the board is likely to go on the offensive now. Agri-marketing board chairman and Bloc state secretariat member Naren Chatterjee said: “We will send notices asking them to take the licence and pay the fee. If needed, we will raid the malls and the big traders.”

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