Role of the citizenry in the land of check gates and toll gates
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Nagaland Voluntary Consumer’s Organisation (NVCO) recently submitted a representation to the Deputy Commissioner, Dimapur against illegal taxation, price-rise in goods and service charges in the state of Nagaland” on August 9 .
At the outset they highlighted the role of the civil societies in the state who have strongly voiced their resentment against the illegal taxation and collection of cash at the check-gates and on highways. The standing order of the government standing order dated 22.06.2009 issued by the Chief Secretary to the Govt. of Nagaland states that ‘no collection of cash will be allowed in the check-gates or in any part of the highway by any organization or individual, government departments such as Police, Excise, Forest and Taxes Departments’, cash collection at these checks gates is rampant. The check-gates will be controlled and maintained by Nagaland Police mainly to check the vehicles carrying contraband goods or any theft goods or vehicles. If necessary, the vehicles or the goods being carried or the documents thereof can also be seized after issuing the proper seizure memo.
Duty on check-gates is said to be the most demanding but the duty personnel are more interested in the cash collection It is true that several policemen especially in the lower ranks wish to get check-gates duty and even fight for it. This illegal collection of cash at the check-gates for the last several decades has to stop. As long as the police continue to collect cash it may not be possible to stop others such as unions, public organizations, federation, associations, govt departments, etc. Today more check-gates have come up and even more toll tax counters with exorbitant charges are being set up in all the places in the state. The increasing number of toll tax counters with exorbitant rates throughout the state by municipal and town councils has become a menace which causes price-rise to both essential and non-essential commodities. Toll tax is imposed only for the purpose to recover the project cost and maintenance for further utility such as roads and bridges but in the case of municipal and town councils what have they done with the money collected in the name of toll tax on various highways. It is virtually zero. This means the money collected in the name of toll tax on the highways was never spent for road maintenance and therefore, they have no right to collect such tax on any highways. The practices of illegal taxation or collection of cash in the state are in different forms such as several taxations imposed upon the business community, government employees, developmental projects, etc by the various underground factions, deduction of not less than 10% to 20% of the total project by way of commissions by politician, in the name of party funds, and others mainly from the contractor’s bill, collection of cash on the highways and at check-gates Nagaland police and others.
The ‘Tax’ or ‘Taxes’ is defined as rate or sum of money assessed on the person or property of a citizen by government for the use of the Nation or State. The power of taxation is a power which the legislatures takes and the collected taxes are for the purpose of raising state revenue, or to be used for public or governmental purpose. “Fees” are the amounts paid for a privilege, and are not an obligation, but the payment is voluntary. Fees are distinguished from taxes in that the chief purpose of a tax is to raise funds for the support of Government or for a public purpose, while a fee may be charged for the privilege or benefit conferred, or service rendered or to meet the expenses connected therewith. Thus, fees are nothing but payment for some special privilege granted or service rendered.
The concept of “Toll” is derived from English jurisprudence. A “toll” may be defined as a sum of money taken in respect of a benefit arising out of the temporary use of land. In other words, for the valid imposition of a toll, there must be a corresponding benefit. To justify the imposition of toll tax the privilege must be enjoyed by the person charged and the amount realized by way of toll tax should be utilized towards the construction, improvement or upkeep of the things like roads, ferries, stalls, etc. over which the privilege is enjoyed. As such toll tax can safely be said to be compensatory in nature. “Levy as well as Collection” both must have the authority of law. The law will mean a valid law. The valid law, in turn, will mean that the tax proposed to be levied must be within the legislative competence of the Legislature and the law must be validly enacted. The expression levy and collection used in Article 265 means that the entire process of taxation commencing from the imposition of tax till the collection from the tax payer has to have sanction of law.
While appreciating the hard work of the Action Committee Against Unabated Taxation(ACAUT), the NVCO sincerely appealed to the district administration, tribal hohos and civil societies including students, youth & women of the district to be more serious and work harder in fighting against illegal taxation in their own district jurisdiction for the fact that illegal taxation in various forms is being practiced across the state, be it commercial hub or state capital or district headquarters or sub-divisions or villages. The ACAUT has exposed various illegal taxation such as illegal syndicate and dealership system, multiple taxations, tax on Cement at Railway station, tax on cement at New Field check gate and Dillai Gate, DMC toll taxes, Protection tax, DMC parking, Sales tax, DMC(vet cell), etc and even listed the name of organization including government agencies such as NSCN(IM), GPRN/NSCN, NSCN(K), FGN, UPDS(Karbi Underground), DMC, Labour union, Truck union, Truck Owners Union, Hardware Association, Excise, Police, MVI, Traffic, etc. What more can a civil society like ACAUT do to contribute towards the welfare of the society or towards the betterment of the state of affairs when the entire authority lies with the Government. The NVCO would like to point out that several municipal and town councils has failed to check the unfair means of trade practices such as butchers despite of hue and cry of consumer/public. The NVCO has highlighted several incidents in shortage of weight measures when consumers buy several kgs of meat for themselves, church programs, community, social work, hostel, hotel, restaurant, etc. but no action was initiated. Shortage of LPG cooking gas which leads to black-marketing is also another consumer’s grievances in the district. The NVCO would like to share its observation that the state government has so far not shown any willingness to tackle the various organizations including its own agencies indulging rampant and blatant taxation on the entire length and breadth of the state of Nagaland. In the year 2009, against the backdrop of a hue and cry over rampant illegal taxation in the state, the chief secretary issued an order banning all forms of cash collection in any form or manner under the guise of tax, fee or welfare etc. However, it appears that the said order has been forgotten or let us says that no one is keen to carry out the order in letter and in spirit. Passing orders is easier than enforcing it. Therefore, the district administration should undertake a serious exercise on how to about implementing it. Moreover, certain exercises, establishing check gates, issuing several orders and calling chakka jam, bandh did not seem to act as a remedy. Tax collections including collection of cash by Nagaland Police in all the check gates, several exorbitant toll taxes collected by municipal and town council in all the district and several organization including government agencies collection cash on the highways continues to be blatantly collected with impunity well throughout the state. The hue and cry of public shown on 18 June, 2013 bandh does showed no sign of abating. The NVCO questioned how long we are to continue this kind of life to remain a victim to illegal taxation.
Today, the NVCO complained and alleged that the State government is illegally exempting few contractors/firms from the payment of legal taxes which is meant for state revenue and losing huge amount to the tune of hundred crores of rupees and even approved and signed several points of contract agreements which is very bad and dangerous for the state and the projects undertaken by these firms/contractors have such high rates, high escalations, etc and the reason is best known to them. The Minister concerned never hesitates to write in their official writing pad directing to award the works without following the procedures making the NPWD Code and NPWD Schedule of Rates(SOR) a mockery. The entire process and conduct is in violation of NPWD & CPWD Code and also in total violation of all ethics of technicality and is putting the state government to service huge debts in the subsequent years. Even now the State Government is facing financial crisis due to the high rates and price escalations approved to certain contractors. Budget deficits and overspending becomes a yearly affair, thereby bringing untold misery to the society as the economic situation of the entire State gets disrupted. The several representations submitted to the Chief Secretary and His Excellency Governor of Nagaland by the Nagaland Voluntary Consumers’ Organization (NVCO) in this regard and even a Book entitled – “Enough is Enough Say No to Corruption” was released and circulated widely but still then the state government never responded to NVCO’s representation till date.
While expressing gladness on the recent National Food Security Ordinance, 2013 that ensures Food security for the People of India, the NVCO expresses its genuine concern over the rise of prices in essential commodities in the state and the state government’s inability to control it. And further expresses its dissatisfaction over the government failure to improve the situation and ensuring essential commodities at affordable prices to the common citizens. Hence the NVCO has requested the district administration and civil societies to jointly fight against illegal taxation and further appeal to the district administration and sub-headquarter to take up effective measures to eliminate the menace of illegal taxation in the district and also maintain control over prices to a reasonable rate by effectively implementing the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.
Civil Rights Crusader(CRC) consisting of ten(10) different groups were officially launched by NVCO President Kezhokhoto Savi at the state capital on July 20 solely with an object to conduct awareness program in the district headquarters and sub-divisions and also a representation under the caption – “NVCO’s representation against illegal taxation and price-rise in goods and service charges in the state of Nagaland” to be submitted to all the Deputy Commissioners in the state.
The NVCO sincerely made an appeal and requested the district administration to stop or remove all illegal practices in the district particularly Dimapur listed as follows : –
i).The collection of cash at the check-gates and on any highways as per the government standing order.
ii)The practice of illegal syndicate and dealership system
iv) Taxation imposed upon the business community, government employee
v) Deduction of certain percentages from developmental project amount (public fund) by way of commission by various underground, politicians, political parties and others mainly from contractors’ bill.
v)The unfair trade practices such as butchers and others.
vi)The practice of black-marketing such as LPG which lead to shortage ofsupply & streamline domestic & commercial connection in LPG supply
vii) Others which amounts to exploitation of the citizens/consumers rights.
The writer is President, NVCO and also a recipient of the First Prize
National Award on Consumer Protection