Budget 2021-22: Road tax waiver brings little cheer
The Bengal government in its budget on Wednesday announced a road tax waiver for transport vehicles till December, but the proposal failed to cheer the sector with transport operators saying it will make little difference to their business reeling under the pressure of rising fuel cost and reduced traffic volume amid the pandemic.
While delivering the state budget speech for the year, Partha Chatterjee, who stood in for Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra, said the state government had earlier allowed one-time exemption of road tax from January to June.
“Considering the post-lockdown economic hardship in the transport sector, our government has proposed to extend the one-time exemption of motor vehicle tax and additional tax from July 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021,” Chatterjee said.
Private bus and minibus operators this paper spoke to said road tax, normally to be paid every three months, comprised a small part of their overall cost at a little over Rs 3,000 or so for six months. About 60 per cent of total operational cost, however, was directly related to fuel cost, which has been steadily rising.
“Just see, price of diesel jumped from Rs 77.44 a litre on January 1 to Rs 92.50 on Wednesday. That’s a difference of over Rs 15 a litre over six months,” said an operator.
Vehicles owners said the road tax every three months is Rs 1,516 for buses and Rs 1,100 for minibuses. Even if waiver for penalty for not renewing fitness certificates, driving license and road permits were clubbed together in keeping with the Bengal government's earlier directive till June 30 it would do little to offset their losses, they said.
Most of the 5,000-plus private buses in Calcutta and its adjoining areas have been off roads since July 1 when the state government relaxed its ban on movement of transport vehicles, allowing 50 per cent capacity. The government is sending out feelers to operators to resume operations but most want a fare hike.
Pradip Narayan Bose of the West Bengal Bus and Minibus Owners Association said they were compelled to hike fare rates.
“The state government had to eventually do away with its control over ticket price in theatre halls. It has no control over rates fixed by auto-rickshaws. Why only for buses and minibuses?” he asked.
“We will stick to our new bus fare schedule of Rs 10, Rs 15 and Rs 20 depending on stages. Since passengers haven’t been complaining (at hiked fares) there will be more buses on the roads from Thursday.”
On Wednesday, some bus and minibus owners also said the government would do better if it lent Rs 2 lakh to each bus owner in Bengal.
It would help them clear insurance dues and cover the cost of maintenance before making vehicles road-worthy, they said.
“Club all the waivers and divide it by 365 days. Is it equal to the cost of fuel required to run buses now? The fares have to be revised and there can be no two ways about it," said Tapan Bandyopadhyay of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate. "If the government has to offer relief, it would do good by offering Rs 2 lakh to each bus owner so that vehicles become road-worthy."