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Name holds back tax

Darjeeling, Sept. 7: The Darjeeling municipality couldn’t start collecting tax from tourists from September 1 as planned because it can’t decide on a name for it, nor the modalities of payment.

Civic body chairman Amar Singh Rai, today said the launch of the tax collection would be delayed by a fortnight to a month.

The civic body had earlier decided to collect Rs 10 per tourist per day. The plan was that hotels would bill the tourists.

Rai had said the charge wouldn’t be called tourist tax and he preferred to term it conservancy or sanitation tax.

Asked about the delay, Sangay Tshering, the president of the Janmukti Hotel Owners’ Association, today said: “We are planning to hold a meeting with the municipality and the GTA leaders before firming up the initiative. We have not yet decided on the name for the tax. I don’t think calling it conservancy tax will sound good. We need to think of a good and a nice name,” he said over phone from New Delhi.

Rai today said he had thought of the name “green tax”. “But an official decision will be taken at the council meeting,” he said.

The civic body and hoteliers were also unable to reach an agreement on how the tax could be levied on the visitors.

“I am being told that the hoteliers don’t want to collect Rs 10 per day per tourist. Instead, they believe it would be easy to collect just Rs 20 per tourist irrespective of the number of days of their stay as maintaining records would be cumbersome. These things have to be discussed with the GTA chief executive Bimal Gurung. As things stand now, it will take a fortnight or even a month to start the tax collection,” said Rai.

The hoteliers said the municipality should pay them the money for printing the receipts for the tax payment.

“A section of the hotel owners wants to come up with beautifully designed coupons and they want the cost of printing to be borne by the municipality. Nevertheless, this is not a major issue and the initiative will start soon,” said a civic body source.

The Darjeeling hills get around 4 lakh tourists, including 40,000 foreigners, annually on an average. A tourist stays in the hills for at least three days.

The earlier board had decided to collect Rs 3 per tourist (on their arrival), Rs 20 for four-wheelers and Rs 50 for buses upon their arrival in town.

The “tourist tax” was collected for only one day as the civic authorities couldn’t distinguish between the visitors and the local people. The present body run by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has no plan to levy tax on tourist vehicles.