Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Apr 8:
The Federation of All Odisha Traders’ Associations (FAOTA) today announced it would go ahead with its proposed indefinite strike from tomorrow as the state government, which had promised to hold a second round of talks with them today, failed to do so.
The first round of talks between FAOTA and the state government held yesterday evening had failed to find a solution to the traders’ body’s demand for exemption of value added tax (VAT) on pulses, wheat and wheat products. With no talks held today, the FAOTA will now stop import of these commodities, 90 percent of which is imported from outside states, from tomorrow.
“Talks had failed yesterday since the government remained adamant in its position. They insisted that they can make any commitment on the matter only after the introduction of the goods and service tax (GST), which was not acceptable to us. They had said yesterday that they would hold another round of talks today. But we didn’t receive any call for such talks today. So, we will go ahead with our strike from tomorrow,” said General Secretary of FAOTA, Sudhakar Panda said.
The state government did not appear overly perturbed by the decision of the traders to go ahead with the strike.
“We have written to the Collectors to keep a close watch on the situation and also to conduct raids on the hoarders,” said Madhusdan Padhi, secretary, Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare department.
The traders’ body had already stopped generating waybills, a prerequisite for import of goods from outside the state, since Sunday.
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.
According to the traders’ body, 24 states have not levied VAT on these essential commodities whereas Odisha government has.
“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 Federation claimed and added that 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 Federation stated that the state government is incurring a loss of around Rs 185 crore towards revenue collection due to involvement of corrupt officials and unscrupulous traders.
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.
The stir was then 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, a move that could make the strike by the traders’ body virtually ineffective the traders at Malgodown, the largest business hub of wholesalers of consumables, in Cuttack city have decided not to join the indefinite stir called by FAOTA on Thursday demanding abolition of 5 per cent value added tax (VAT) on pulses, wheat and wheat products, though they extend their support to the traders’ body.
“The traders here do not intend to lock horns with the state government in the present scenario. Though we support FAOTA’s demand to abolish VAT on pulses, we have unanimously decided not to join the strike in the larger interest of around 800 traders at Malgodown,” senior member of Cuttack Chamber of Commerce, Prashant Kumar Patra said.