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Budget boost for banks & tourism
- Debt recovery tribunal for Siliguri, service tax relief for some tour operators

Siliguri, July 10: The Union finance minister today announced a debt recovery tribunal in Siliguri and waived service tax for Indian tour operators taking foreign tourists to trips abroad.

Jaitley proposed six debt recovery tribunals (DRT) across the country, one of which would be in Siliguri.

Bankers said the tribunal would help resolve the cases with regard to bad debts in north Bengal and Sikkim.

“In DRTs, cases pertaining to non-performing assets of Rs 10 lakh or above are resolved. Till now, cases pertaining to the recovery of the bad debts in north Bengal and Sikkim were heard in one of the three DRTs in Calcutta. A bench of the tribunal used to operate in Siliguri occasionally but that did not expedite the process of resolving recovery cases,” said a senior official of a nationalised bank said.

“Now that a DRT has been proposed for Siliguri, it would largely help banks in north Bengal and Sikkim resolve the cases at the earliest.”

The tourism industry, which is second to the tea sector in terms of employment generation, was happy with the abolition of service tax for Indian tour operators for the services given to foreigners outside the country.

Tour operators now need to pay service tax at the rate of 3.09 per cent in case they provide a complete tour package to the foreigners, 1.236 per cent if they arrange only hotels and 4.9 per cent if they take care of just the transport.

“A good number of tour operators in north Bengal take foreign tourists to neighbouring Nepal and Bhutan. Now that the waiver has been announced, it would benefit tour operators like us,” said Samrat Sanyal of East Wind Holidays.

However, Sanyal said that north Bengal and Siliguri should be included in the five tourism circuits proposed in the budget. “We appreciate the finance minister’s decision on the service tax waiver but simultaneously demand that north Bengal and Sikkim be considered for one of the five tourism circuits mooted in the budget.”

Jaitley has allocated Rs 500 crore for the development of the five tourism circuits.

Raj Basu, a prominent tourism stakeholder in eastern India, placed another demanded. “In the budget, he has mentioned the Sarnath-Gaya-Varanasi Buddhist circuit, which would be developed with world class tourist amenities. We want north Bengal and Sikkim, which are dotted with historical Buddhist monuments, to be included in the circuit,” said Basu.

The tea industry, which is the largest employment generator in the region, was miffed with the budget placed by Arun Jaitley as no specific allocation or plan was mentioned for the growth of the sector.

For tea growers, the only consolation was the announcement to open 2,000 “producers’ organisations” in the next two years in association with Nabard. However, they will only help small tea cultivators.

“We have already held talks with officials of Nabard on the formation of groups for small tea growers. The producers’ organisations will prompt officials to give impetus to the initiative to make the small growers join hands and work together for better bargaining powers and economic growth,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the president of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers’ Associations. “We had, however, expected more announcements for the tea sector in the budget.”

Among other budget announcements, the Centre’s plan to create a corpus fund of Rs 200 crore for young entrepreneurs from Scheduled Castes and allocation of Rs 100 crore for the welfare of tribal people in forest villages will help north Bengal.

“A substantial portion of the Rajbangshi youths in north Bengal are unemployed and wish to have small business of their own. The funds can help the tribal youths become self-reliant. In a similar manner, funds for tribals in the forest villages can be used for their socio-economic development,” said an observer.

North Bengal has a huge population of Schedules Caste members and adivasis.

Representatives of trade bodies have welcomed the proposal to encourage micro, small and medium entrepreneurs (MSME) through a nation-wide district level incubation and accelerator programme. The programme aims for the incubation of new ideas and support for accelerating entrepreneurship.

“We have been working together with the state government for the development of MSME units. There are many prospective entrepreneurs who need to pick up skills so that they can open up new units. The the district level programmes will surely benefit the MSMEs,” said Prabir Seal, the chairman of the north Bengal zonal council of the Confederation of Indian Industry.