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3000 traders down shutters

- Shopowners protest extortion by sales tax officials

Dhubri, April 11: Nearly 3,000 business and commercial establishments in Dhubri town observed a strike today to protest against the “extortion” by sales tax inspectors for the past 15 days.

The businessmen and traders of the town alleged that two sales tax inspectors had demanded Rs 1 lakh from them as donation for Bihu.

Last night, the two sales tax inspectors — Jayanta Bora and Romel Boro — arrived at M/S Sandip Cloth Store on Charman Road of Dhubri town owned by Sawarmal Tantia and demanded Rs 1 lakh as donation for Bihu.

Tantia said when he expressed his inability to pay such a huge amount, an argument broke out.

On hearing the altercation, a large number of local traders gathered in front of the shop.

The two officials were heckled and in order to save themselves they took shelter inside the same shop where they had gone to collect money.

Later, police arrived at the shop and rescued the officials. They were later arrested on the basis of an FIR lodged by Tantia.

“We have been donating to everything. But there must be a limit. A few hundred rupees is acceptable. But how can we pay if the officials demand Rs 1 lakh?” a businessman asked.

In a meeting called today by the prominent businessmen at Kalibari, they condemned yesterday’s incident.

Shyam Dhanawat, a trader of Dhubri town, said: “When everything is done through VAT and tax returns are filed, then why do sales tax officials need to visit shops? It should be stopped.”

The state AASU organising secretary, Putul Chandra Roy Pradhani, who attended the meeting, while condemning the extortion by sales tax officials, demanded an end to the donation culture.

Dinesh Agarwala, commissioner of ward 5, said though they are fed up of people asking for donations round the year, they still pay up.

“These sales tax officials had created a reign of terror for the past two weeks and even small and petty businessmen and betel-nut shop owners were not spared,” Agarwal alleged.

In view of the situation, Dhubri additional superintendent of police, D. Bora, called a meeting with some businessmen at Dhubri police station. It was attended by Dhubri deputy commissioner of sales tax, Tenzing Ingti.

Bora and Tenzing heard the grievances of the traders and promised to look into the matter.

“I assure you that your grievances will be looked into and some solution will be hammered out but now police and officials are extremely busy in poll preparation. We will sit together again after the polls and festivity are over,” Bora said.

The traders alleged that officials could have been asking for money on behalf of a political party because no official has ever demanded such an amount for a festival.