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Tax target up seven-fold

Darjeeling, Jan. 20: The government has set a tax collection target of Rs 50 crore for the Darjeeling district for the current fiscal, a seven-fold increase from last year’s target of Rs 7 crore.

The move is an indication that the state has started tightening its noose against defaulters who had not paid their dues in the past three years following the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s call for a non-co-operation movement.

Gopal Lama, additional district magistrate and also the district land and land reforms officer, said: “We are trying our best to meet the target. The common people have started paying up their land rents and other dues. We have also sent notices to tea gardens across the district to clear up their arrears.”

He said the department had collected Rs 9.5 crore as tax arrears last year though the target set was Rs 7 crore.

The Morcha had asked the hill people to stop paying taxes from April 1, 2008, as part of its non-co-operation movement. Even after an agreement on a hill set-up was reached on July 18, 2011, the Morcha had made it clear that people would pay their dues only from August 1, 2011.

Sources said last year the taxes had been mostly collected from the Siliguri subdivision while collection from the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong was “quite less”.

The department has already sent notices to 38 gardens. The total outstanding dues, which have accumulated from the 2008-09 financial year, stands at a little over Rs 52 lakh for the 38 estates.

“We want the gardens to pay the dues by February end,” said Lama. An official said those who did not pay up this time would be fined.

Local people have not complained yet about the pay-up notice. “The locals have not yet complained as the land rents are very low. In rural areas a person has to pay Rs 25 per acre per annum. In urban areas, it is Rs 25 per decimal (100 decimals makes one acre),” said an official.

The Morcha said it was not aware of the pay-up notice from the land department. “We had said we would pay all taxes from August 1, 2011. That is why the electricity department is taking bills only from August. I am not aware of this issue (land rent),” said Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri. Power bills of more than Rs 72 crore accrued during the period of Morcha agitation have not yet been cleared by the hill people.