Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Apr 7:
The Federation of All Odisha Traders’ Associations (FAOTA) has announced that it would go ahead with its proposed strike from Thursday after its talks with the state government over exemption of value added tax (VAT) on pulses, wheat and wheat products failed this evening.
The Association made the announcement even though the talks with the government are scheduled to resume tomorrow.
“We have been demanding exemption of VAT on pulses, wheat and wheat products. The state government put forth its views about the difficulties. They would give a clear picture after the introduction of goods and service tax (GST). They have asked us to resume the talks tomorrow morning. The talks have failed and we would go ahead with the strike,” General Secretary of FAOTA, Sudhakar Panda said.
A five-member team of representatives from FAOTA held discussions here with Finance secretary, food, supplies & consumer welfare department secretary and commercial tax commissioner to press their demands.
“As many as 24 states have not levied VAT on these essential commodities whereas Odisha government has. Almost 90 percent of the pulses, wheat and wheat products are imported from other states and imposition of tax lead to higher prices of these commodities. We are consumers too. So in the interest of the consumers we have decided to launch an indefinite strike,” Panda said.
“Around 2500 traders will not procure these essential commodities till our demands are met. We had called a strike in December last year and the government had assured us to look into our demands. Already four months have passed and the government has not lent an ear to our demands following which we have decided to go on an indefinite strike from tomorrow,” a member of the association said.
The Lion’s share of the tax collected from the sale of these commodities is being siphoned off, the Association claimed.
“The state government should get tax to the tune of Rs 225 crore. However, due to inefficiency of the administration, it could only collect a meagre Rs 30 crore to Rs 40 crore. The state government is incurring a loss of around Rs 185 crore towards revenue collection due to involvement of corrupt officials and unscrupulous traders,” Panda alleged.
The traders’ association, which had threatened to stop import and sale of these items from April 9, has already stopped generating waybills, a prerequisite for import of goods from outside the state, since Sunday.
Notably, the traders are opposing the five percent VAT collected on these food items.
In December last year, the traders had gone on a two-day strike stopping import and sale of pulse, wheat and wheat products demanding waiver of the levy.
However, the stir was called off after a written assurance from the office of the Commissioner, commercial taxes, to look into their demands. The government had assured them to look into the issues and urged them to call off the agitation for three months.
With the government failing to meet its assurance, the traders have again called for an indefinite strike from Thursday.
Meanwhile, the prices of these commodities have started soaring with the prices of lentils crossing Rs 90 a kg.
Consumers have resorted to panic buying and the shortfall in supply has contributed to the price rise.
After the traders stopped generating waybills, the supply of these items have been affected. The existing stock in the market could meet the demands for a week at the most after which it could lead to a panic situation, sources said.