Police harassment must stop, but a rollback of road tax is ruled out.
The expert committee, set up by the state government to address transport operators’ grievances, submitted a report to transport minister Subhas Chakraborty on Monday, that threatens to fuel a fresh round of agitation. Transport operators have alleged that while the government used them to make up the numbers in the committee, their views were blacked out when the final report was prepared.
The committee formed on August 22, hours before private transport operators were to embark on a three-day strike demanding a rollback of the revised road-tax structure, has promised “necessary steps to stop police harassment”, but supported the transport department’s decision to hike road taxes.
The transport operators have alleged that they had been kept in the dark about the report. “The government did not take us into confidence. We gave our suggestions in writing, as asked by the convenor of the committee, but we know nothing about the final recommendations,” said S. Saha, president of the Bengal Bus syndicate.
Echoing Saha, secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate Sadhan Das said: “It is astounding that members of the committee know nothing about the contents. It appears that only Prashant (joint secretary, transport, and chairman of the expert committee) prepared the report. How can we regard it as a report representative of the expert committee'’’ The transport department, however, said that at no time had the transporters been told that they would be part of the team finally writing out the recommendations.
In its report to the minister, the committee has shortlisted 67 demands of the transport lobby. But there is no place for a rollback. “The transport department has taken up several projects for the development of infrastructure to improve traffic flow, so the hike seems reasonable,” said Subhas Mukherjee, representative of the Regional Transport Authority.
The committee further observed that the annual levy for passenger vehicles was Rs 62,920 in Tamil Nadu, Rs 45,938 in Maharashtra, Rs. 28,600 in Andhra Pradesh and Rs 24,440 in Kerala, compared to Rs 7,150 in West Bengal. “Besides, we have raised the taxes after two decades. I strongly believe that the hike is justified. I will go through the expert committee’s report and take a decision by September 10,” said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.
Committee convenor Prashant stressed that it would be difficult for the government to revoke the hike. “A Bill has already been passed and the governor has given his consent. Any changes will require a fresh amendment to the existing West Bengal Motor Vehicles Tax (Amendment) Act 2003,’’ he explained.
The transport department, meanwhile, has appointed Calcutta State Transport Corporation chairman Balbir Ram to review fares following the recent hike in petrol and diesel prices. Ram will submit his report to the government on September 9.