Traders, industrialists at loggerheads over toll tax in Jammu and Kashmir

Traders, industrialists at loggerheads over toll tax in Jammu and Kashmir
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Jammu: Lobby groups of traders and industrialists in Jammu and Kashmir have locked horns over the demand for removal of toll tax at Lakhanpur which generates a revenue of over Rs 1,000 crore annually.

While the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) has threatened to start an agitation if the governor administration failed to implement ‘one nation one tax’ by abolishing the toll plaza, Federation of Industries Jammu (FOIJ) and Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK) said such a decision would be a death knell for the local industry.

“The people of Jammu and Kashmir are not ready to pay a whopping amount of toll tax after the implementation of Goods and Service Tax (GST) regime in the country,” JCCI president Rakesh Gupta said.

He said that the chamber had decided to launch a protest during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state on Sunday but deferred the move conditionally after getting an assurance from Governor Satya Pal Malik that their issues would be taken on priority.

The chamber is pressing for implementation of ‘one nation one tax’ by removing toll tax and allotment of land for a dry port for which an MoU was signed in February last year.

A meeting of the chamber and the state administration is likely to take place this week, he said and warned the administration that if these two utmost important issues are not resolved in the proposed meeting, the Chamber would have no choice but to take the agitation route to press for its demand.

Strongly opposing the idea of withdrawal of toll tax at Lakhanpur, the gateway to Jammu and Kashmir from Punjab, the FOIJ and the FCIK expressed concern over the “repeated attempts of some vested interests” to destroy the Industrial sector in the state and requested the governor to continue with the arrangement to safeguard the state industry.

“The Toll at Lakhanpur prevents import and export of unaccounted goods, contraband and other banned items and it should be continued to safeguard the industrial sector in the state,” FOIJ Chairman Lalit Mahajan said after a joint meeting with FCIK delegation here.

If the government withdraws the toll tax checkpost, the whole state will be flooded with the unaccounted goods and other related material which will prove as a death knell for the Industrial sector of the state,” he claimed.

Earlier, Excise Commissioner Talat Parvez Rohella told PTI that the continuation of toll tax at Lakhanpur is imperative to safeguard the local industry and also to generate revenue to provide better facilities.

“Our state is consumer state and as long as the two reasons remain there, we have to continue with this practice,” he said.

The commissioner said under Section V of the state constitution, the government has the powers to impose levy on goods other than the GST. The Constitution of India also empowers the states to levy any tax, other than GST, under Schedule VII.

“We do not have resources as we do not implement property tax, wealth tax, municipal tax and even our electricity cost is less compared to other states. The Lakhanpur toll plaza supports our budget as Rs 1,000 crore is generated annually which help the government to provide facilities to the people,” he said.

Secondly, Rohella said the industries which operate here do not get raw material locally and they have to import it from outside the state.

“When they produce finished goods here they need protection as our industry cannot compete with neighbouring states like Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh where the raw material is easily available and the industrialists enjoy concession on electricity,” he added.

The department is also keeping a close watch in the areas bordering Punjab to stop illegal smuggling of various goods, including cement from the neighbouring state.

“We have apprehended some people who were trying to smuggle cement through riverbed routes into the state. We are keeping a vigil round-the-clock to ensure that the smugglers do not succeed,” he said.

He said cement manufacturers in other states have added advantage compared to Jammu and Kashmir. “We have to bring everything, from costly machinery to raw material, from outside and our cement industry cannot compete with neighbouring states, which get the raw material locally and can lower the rates at will. The toll plaza works as an advantage for the local industry,” he said. 

However, he said the department is planning to introduce online payment system and cashless transactions to ensure hassle-free clearance of goods at Lakhanpur toll plaza.

“We are providing handheld POS machines to the staff at the plaza to ensure payment through credit and debit cards as well,” Rohella noted.