Calcutta’s civic authorities and the city’s traders are headed for a showdown over a proposed hike in the enlistment certificate fee, or trade licence, from Rs 10 to Rs 2,500. The gravity of the situation can be judged from mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s assertion that he will not baulk at effecting the hike, and the traders responding with a threat of an indefinite strike.
“They (the traders) are not here for social work. They conduct a business to earn profits. They are welcome to keep their establishments closed as long as they wish to,” Mukherjee said on Thursday, adding that the strike will not affect the people.
Mahesh Singhania, of the Federation of West Bengal Trade Associations, however, said the traders would consider the option of a strike from January 16 if the civic authorities did not initiate a discussion on a downward revision of the proposed licence fee.
“The Jyoti Basu government, of which present chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and finance minister Ashim Dasgupta were a part, had promised in the Assembly to respond to our demand. Accordingly, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and Bengal Municipal Act were amended in 1989,” Singhania pointed out.
The mayor said he would not consider operating a low licence fee in a growing metro like Calcutta. “The current fee of Rs 10 held good 65 years ago, but no longer. There are many unemployed youths in the city and if the traders keep their shops closed, these youths can take to selling wares,” the mayor asserted.
The civic body, said Mukherjee, will impose an annual charge from the traders, which will include the trade licence fee and other taxes like water supply and conservancy. “This will increase transparency in the system and traders will not have to pay bribes,” Mukherjee added.
The Federation, on its part, has squarely blamed the Left Front government and the Trinamul Congress-controlled CMC for letting the problem reach a flashpoint. The traders claimed the Jyoti Basu government had promised them that they would have to pay only a professional tax and Rs 10 for the enlistment certificate. “Supporting the mayor’s demand is a breach of contract on the part of the state government,” Singhania added.
The traders are also agitated over a number of other issues, like non-receipt of renewal application forms and not being able to renew any licence without paying exorbitant bribe.
The Federation has demanded that traders be allowed to renew licences by bank payments to check corruption.