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Tea tax ripples in Bengal Assembly

The Speaker suggested a motion in the House to highlight the tea industry’s problems because of the proposal to tax at source cash withdrawals exceeding Rs 1 crore a year
Women workers busy plucking tea leaves at a tea estate in North Bengal.

A Staff Reporter   |   Calcutta   |   Published 09.07.19, 01:06 AM

Bengal Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee has suggested a motion in the House to highlight the tea industry’s problems because of the Centre’s proposal to tax at source cash withdrawals exceeding Rs 1 crore a year.

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed the tax in her budget.

On Monday, several MLAs cutting across political lines said the proposal would affect the ailing tea industry in north Bengal, where around 90 per cent of the 3.25 lakh garden workers receive their wages in cash.

State parliamentary affairs minister Partha Chatterjee drew the House’s attention to the problem. “The Union budget didn’t include any proposal to give a push to the tea industry. Instead, the Union budget proposed a tax on cash withdrawals exceeding Rs 1 crore, which would push up the cost in tea plantations as salaries are mostly paid in cash,” Chatterjee said.

“The penetration of banks is minimal in garden areas.

Although the Centre wants the wage transfer through banks, there is no adequate infrastructure in remote parts. So, cash disbursal will continue, which would add to the costs.”

Leader of the Opposition Abdul Mannan echoed Chatterjee. Mannan proposed that an all-party delegation meet Sitharaman and seek exemption for the tea industry from the tax.

As Chatterjee nodded, Speaker Banerjee said: “You may consider bringing a motion in the House and then take it up with the Centre.”

Later in the day, Chatterjee said he would hold discussions with the Opposition to firm up the contours of the motion.

BJP legislature party leader Manoj Tigga, an MLA from the tea belt in Madarihat, Alipurduar, said: “There are banks in tea gardens and so there is no problem in transfer through banks. Besides, there are banking correspondents who can deliver the wages at the doorsteps of the workers.” 

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