The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Return tax at Bangla border post

Petrapole (North 24-Parganas), Aug. 1: Bangladesh customs is “extorting” money from Indians returning to the country through the check-post here with valid documents, some of the alleged victims have said.

Travellers from India who had crossed the border at Bongaon have complained to officials on this side of the border that they were forced to pay Rs 500 in Indian currency to the Bangladeshi customs officials as “travel and tourism” tax.

Some passengers had even complained that they were subjected to misbehaviour after they refused to pay the money.

“We were returning on July 28 when some Bangladeshi officers stopped our bus and asked us to pay the money. As we frequently travelled across the border on business, we knew there was no way they could ask for the money. When we asked them about it, an official threatened us with a ‘rigorous check’. We had to pay to avoid harassment. Later, we lodged a complaint with the Indian customs officials about the incident,” said S.S. Dey, a passenger on the Calcutta-Dhaka bus.

The Indian customs officials became aware of the problems after several passengers who were returning in the bus and few others who came in private transport complained about similar treatment.

“There is no law that levies tourism tax on a departing Indian national . This is only applicable to Bangladeshi nationals coming to India. We had contacted our counterparts in Bangladesh and the customs officials there told us the order came from ‘higher authorities’. The collection started from July 23 and is still continuing,” said J.P. Naik, the superintending customs official on the Indian side.

The customs office here has informed the Indian high commission in Bangladesh about the allegations. “We also asked the Bangladeshi officials at Petrapole to provide us with a copy of the order to collect the money as tax from departing Indian nationals. But till date, they have not provided us with any such document,” said a regional officer of the department, who refused to be named.

“The issue needs immediate attention as several hundred Indians are regularly being forced to part with the money and we do not see any reason why they should do so,” said a deputy superintendent of the Indian customs department.

Officials at the Bangladeshi high commission in Calcutta were unaware of the development. “I do not know of any such thing going on there. I am hearing about it for the first time. I will look into it. But, so far, I know only Bangladeshi nationals had to pay some amount as travel and tourism tax while entering India,” said Manzar Alam, the joint secretary in commercial section of the high commission.

The press secretary of the mission could not be asked for a comment even after several attempts.

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