West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta will place the demand before the Centre tomorrow. The decision was taken at a meeting called to review implementation of uniform sales tax rates.
“We have decided to ask Yashwant Sinha to restrict the rate cut to half-a-percentage point and call a meeting of chief ministers to review this. We also want the Centre to resume accepting small savings deposits within three days,” Dasgupta said.
The government had suspended collection of deposits under the schemes, including the public provident fund, to help post offices and banks switch to the new interest structure. It had said the bar would be lifted by February 1.
Today’s meeting was attended by finance ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Punjab, governed by the BJP and its allies, and Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka, all Congress-ruled states. Most of these states depend heavily on loans from small savings schemes to fund their annual budgets.
This is one of the rare occassions when states ruled by different parties have rallied together on an economic issue.
However, since the cut was effected to align the rates with bank interest and eventually usher in a cheaper credit regime, it will be difficult for the government to roll back the decision.
The cut in the interest rate means less deposits and less money for the states, which are allowed to take up to 80 per cent of these deposits as soft loans. About Rs 4,400 crore of Bengal’s Rs 23,000-crore budget comes from small savings schemes.
“The interest rate cut has created a major problem. As it is, we are having a tough time trying to implement higher pay scales recommended by the Fifth Pay Commission. Now this. The problem is compounded by the Central decision to halt acceptance of deposits under these schemes for the next 15 days,” Dasgupta said.
The meeting suggested penalties for the Union Territories which have not implemented the uniform sales tax floor rates. Chandigarh, Pondicherry and Dadra and Nagar Haveli will be penalised if they do not fall in line soon. Tamil Nadu has also been putting up resistance. Bihar, Orissa and Haryana, set for polls in February, are exempt from implementing the new rates till the elections.
All states last month agreed to implement uniform floor rates on over 206 products. These goods were grouped into six categories, and attracted tax rates ranging from zero for essential goods to 20 per cent for goods whose consumption states wished to discourage.
Sales tax changes
Pasteurised milk, branded bread, garlic, ginger, farm implements and poultry feed were today included in the essential goods category. While sales tax on industrial inputs and bulk drugs will be lowered from 8 to 4 per cent, it will be brought down to zero for life-saving drugs.
Namkeens, sweetmeats and hosiery goods have been excluded from rate classification. Sales tax rates on automobiles will be fixed after the election in Haryana.
“Action will follow only when they fail to correct themselves,” general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said during the briefing on the concluding day of the politburo.
Party insiders said the questions raised by the dissident trio — Saifuddin Chowdhury, Subhas Chakraborty and Samir Putatunda — figured in Sunday’s discussion.
Both Surjeet and chief minister Jyoti Basu reportedly favoured the proposal to give the rebels more time to rectify their “mistakes”.
“Nobody is above the party, but at the same time, we don’t punish errant members in a hurry. Unlike the Congress, we give sufficient time to the party members to realise their mistakes,” Surjeet said. “I am the general secretary of the party. But if I commit any mistake, the party reserves the right to rectify me.”
Echoing Surjeet, Basu also told The Telegraph that those criticising the style of functioning “belong to the party and are part and parcel of the organisation.” “The views of the minority have to be taken into account even as the majority has the final say in organisational matters,” he added.
The veterans’ comments came as a morale-booster for the three dissidents. “We are happy with the way comrades Surjeet and Basu are handling the matter,” Chowdhury said tonight in Delhi.
Chowdhury said he was left with no option but to raise the issues after five long years. “I have been keeping silent since 1995 when I was dropped from the party’s central committee. Now the time has come to raise my voice against attempts to stifle democracy within the party,” he asserted.
Asked if had replied to the showcause notice served on him, Chowdhury said he would hand over the letter by January 23.
Chakraborty, who met Surjeet last night, left for Alipurduar this afternoon. Sources said Chakraborty was asked to toe the party line and rectify himself.
Surjeet said the politburo unanimously adopted the draft document at its three-day session.
“Now we will refer the draft to the central committee which will meet for three days from March 10. This will be preceded by a short politburo session,” he added.
A short plenum is expected to be convened by the end of the year to approve the updated programme.
He said the draft would be distributed to local units after the central committee approved it.
In a letter to Jadavpur University, where he was a student, Amit Dey names two students who were awarded first class marks last year, allegedly for their families’ support to the CPM.
Dey’s letter, which Jadavpur University authorities are trying to bury, has kicked up a row.
Dey, who teaches history, says the two students, who had appeared for the MA (History) examinations held in 1999, found that they were short of first class by two marks after publication of results.
When they approached the history department, it recommended granting of the two marks. The recommendation was approved by the examination department of the university. The letter says then the students were placed in the first class.
But Dey alleges that in the late 1980s, he had missed his first class in the B.A. examinations when he was denied two marks by the same department despite requests.
A graduate and also a post-graduate from the Jadavpur University, Dey charges the authorities with discrimination on political grounds.
“I was not affiliated to any political party when I was a student at the university. Which is why my requests to grant me two marks were turned down,” Dey says.
He alleges that a large number of students other than him, who had also missed first class by one or two marks in the following years, had their requests for the extra marks turned down.
Dey has senior teachers of the university agreeing with him, who charge the CPM with manipulating the education system.
“During the past few years all state-aided universities have been taken over by the ruling CPM. At present, only those students are given the extra mark who have a CPM connection. This cannot be tolerated,” a university teacher said on condition of anonymity.
Of late, there has been a barrage of charges against the CPM. It has been alleged that Madhyamik and Higher Secondary toppers come mostly from state-run and state-aided schools in the districts in order to establish the CPM claim that quality of education is better there.
About 75 per cent of successful candidates at the Joint Entrance Examination for admission to engineering and medical colleges in the state are from the districts for the same reason, it has also been charged.
It has also been alleged that victimisation of college students belonging to the Congress’ students’ wing, Chhatra Parishad, has increased over the years. The most glaring example of this is the recent incident when over 30 students lost their candidature for their B.Com examinations on the ground of poor attendance.
However, Jadavpur University controller of examinations P.K Sengupta, who admitted Dey’s letter, said he had no reports of irregularity at his university in granting of marks to students in recent years.
“Our system of assessment of answerscripts is fool-proof and free from political bias,” he said. Sengupta said examination rules of the university could be changed from time to time and it was the discretion of the examination department to decide on the maximum limit of granting extra marks.
“When Dey had applied for his two marks, the rules during that time were probably different,” Sengupta added.
Now, in order to enable more postgraduates appear at the National Eligibility Test (NET), State Level Eligibility Test (SLET) or School Service Commission tests, where candidates are required to have 55 per cent marks, even four to five extra marks are now given to the examinees, Sengupta said.
Granting extra marks, specially to students from the arts and science faculties, was prevalent ever since the inception of the university, some teachers said. There is no harm in giving two extra marks to a student of history, since the questions are subjective, one explained.
Dey, too, welcomes the university’s move to give extra marks to students. But he has urged the authorities not to be politically-biased.