GUWAHATI, March 13 - The Assam Budget presented by Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma yesterday in general is a ‘progressive’ one, said North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) advisor Bidyananda Barkakoty.
However, the noted tea planter, who is also a member of the Tea Board of India, called for steps to remove the difference of the State’s taxes on tea industry with those of West Bengal. This is needed to enhance the capacity of the State’s teas to compete with those of West Bengal, he said.
Barkakoty said the “Chah Bagicha Dhan Puraskar Aru Jeevan Suraksha Yojana” would encourage tea garden workers to adopt the practice of ‘savings’ in banks and greatly help them in getting ‘life insurance’ and ‘accident insurance’ coverage under Central government schemes.
It is a very welcome step that the small tea growers (STGs) are now exempted from paying cess of 0.10 paisa per kg of green leaf they are producing, he said.
“Green leaf cess is presently not applicable in any tea growing state of India. The economic condition of the tea industry in Assam has become a cause for great concern and in view of the immense socio-economic importance of this industry in our State, we appeal to the Government of Assam to withdraw green leaf cess payable under the Assam Taxation on Specified Land Act. In Assam, for big growers, the green leaf cess is 0.40 paisa per kg of green leaf they grow.
“In the Assam Budget, the exemption limits under the Agriculture Income Tax Act has been raised up to Rs 2.5 lakh from the exemption limit of Rs 1 lakh and the other tax slabs have already been rationalized.
“The two major tea growing States of India – West Bengal and Tamil Nadu – had already withdrawn Agricultural Income Tax on tea cultivation in their states for encouraging economic sustainability of the tea industry. We urge the Government of Assam to withdraw Agricultural Income Tax on tea. In Assam, Agricultural Income Tax is applicable only on tea,” said Barkakoty.
The Government of West Bengal in its 2018-’19 Budget, has completely abolished Agricultural Income Tax for the 2018-’19 and 2019-’20 financial years (FYs). Also, tea gardens have been exempted from payment of Education Cess and Rural Employment Cess for FY 2018-19.
Assam and West Bengal together produce about 80 per cent of the country’s tea. The difference in average price realisation at Siliguri and Guwahati auction centres is only Rs 10. Assam and West Bengal compete in the same market to sell their teas. Therefore, if there is a wide difference in the State taxes, then Assam tea industry will not be able to compete with the West Bengal tea industry,” warned Barkakoty.
AREIDA reaction: Meanwhile, the Assam Real Estate and Infrastructure Developers Association (AREIDA) has termed the State budget 2018-’19 progressive, growth-oriented and inclusive.
In a statement here today, AREIDA president PK Sarma said allocation of Rs 1,633 and Rs 1,515 crore for Urban Development and Guwahati Development respectively is welcome. Extension of the City Infrastructure Development Fund (CIDF) to cover eight new middle level towns of Bongaigaon, Dhubri, North Lakhimpur, Karimganj, Goalpara, Sivasagar, Barpeta and Golaghat would address the issue concerning planned urban development in the cities of tomorrow by providing for core infrastructure, besides the issues related with water supply, sewerage disposal, LED streetlights etc.
The intent to make urban local bodies (ULBs) engines of growth is a laudable one. The emphasis on the development of roads and drains in urban areas as well as development of state highways, which is a crying need for this region, is also a welcome move.
Allocation of Rs 100 crore for LED bulbs to replace conventional and CFL would significantly reduce power consumption. Proposal of social media cell in departments to bring the government in direct communication with people will deal a blow to the brokers, who are ever trying to establish their grip on all line departments, Sarma said.
Priority to Deepor Beel the lone Ramsar site in the State with the establishment of a Deepor Beel Conservation and Development Authority is also a laudable announcement.
The announcements for Guwahati development like operationalising the State Capital Region Development Authority for planned development of the State capital region, creation of parks and open spaces in association with the Singapore Corporation Enterprise, Kamakhya ropeway, three modern freight terminals at Changsari, Chaygaon and Sonapur, creation of additional parking spaces, Brahmaputra riverfront development and assurance of water supply under JICA to commence this year auger well for the capital city, the AREIDA president said.
The steps taken to boost investment after the successful Global Investors’ Summit 2018 are a good beginning to the next level.
The reforms proposed in the revenue department with the integrated land record management system, e-stamping facilities and modern record room with digital land records are indeed path-breaking and it would change the entire cumbersome system in existence, he said.
Construction of 2,000 affordable homes for the economically weaker sections at Azara and Dibrugarh would provide homes to the homeless, Sarma further said.