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Peace crores fill up Kashmir coffers

Srinagar, June 10: Zero to crores: at least one section in Kashmir is raking in the peace dividend in cash and cheque.

The income-tax collection in the state has touched Rs 400 crore in 2006-07.

Not bad for a state that failed to put a single paisa in the income-tax coffers in 1990-91, a year after full-blown insurgency roared off the ground.

However, after the cross-border ceasefire and the confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan, the tax trawl had come across some catch.

But this year’s Rs 400 crore is as much as 55 per cent more than the Rs 257 crore a year ago. The rate of increase is higher than the all-India figure of 35 per cent.

Virender Singh, the income-tax commissioner of Jammu and Kashmir, knows how lucky he is. The experience of his predecessor in the nineties is still raw.

Under the shadow of militants who warned people not to pay the government anything — water and power bills, too, went unpaid — the income-tax wing was crippled. In the early nineties, many government employees also refused to pay tax.

Now even the violence-prone Valley has contributed Rs 130 crore to the central exchequer, an increase of Rs 25 crore over the preceding year, said Farhat Qureshi, the additional income-tax commissioner.

The Rs 108 crore shelled out by Jammu and Kashmir Bank, the bulk of whose business comes from the Valley, during the previous year isn’t part of the tax figures.

Numbers from 2001, when the collections began to pick up, aren’t available because of a 2005 suicide bomber strike on the office. All records were gutted in the attack in which an employee and five security personnel were killed.

“We taxmen were scared to be seen outside. The collections not only dropped to zero but turned negative in the nineties. That happened because of refunds,” another official said. He recalled the time when the only visitors to his office were contractors who were looking for refunds.

What has changed now' One reason is that more people have entered the fold. In the Valley alone, there were 35,000 taxpayers in 2006-07, up 11,000 over the previous year.

“That (the number) is a 45 per cent rise in the assessees. It has come after the department launched a massive public awareness campaign,” said Qureshi.

Also, there are fewer threats from militants. “That has helped us get on with our job better. More and more people are coming forward to pay taxes,” the official said.

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