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Tourists Around But Tax Collection Fails - Darjeeling Municipality To Revamp Policy For Revenue Increase


http://www.telegraphindia.com/1111223/jsp/siliguri/story_14918589.jsp

23 December 2011

VIVEK CHHETRI, Darjeeling:

The administration’s effort to generate revenue for Darjeeling through tourist tax has hit logistics hurdles though the Queen of Hills will host quite a number of visitors during the short Christmas-New year calendar.

But the Darjeeling municipality — the elected board of which was sworn in yesterday — has decided to give it a new boost, starting with changing the name, “tourist tax”. After all, “tourists do spend” in the hills and the name sends “a wrong message”, the municipality said.

The administration collected “the tourist tax” only for a day, that is on November 15, when it was first launched.

The earlier municipality board under the subdivisional officer had decided to collect Rs 3 per tourist, Rs 20 from each four-wheeler and Rs 50 from the buses carrying the visitors. With an annual tourist footfall of about 3 lakh here alone, the municipality was looking at generating a revenue of about Rs 14 lakh from the tourists in a year.

But the plan could not concretise much as many loose strings could not be tied up. One of the major problems the tax collectors stationed at Ghoom — the entry point to the hill town — faced was to distinguish tourists from the locals, especially if they were in shared taxis.

On the day of the launch of the project, the civic authorities had claimed that identification would not be a hindrance to the tax collection.

In the absence of a proper gate for vehicles to pass through, most cars carrying tourists ignored the tax collectors stationed near Ghoom. The hand-written chart with the tax rates could easily be missed. The initiative was expected to help the civic body, though Rs 14 lakh could not be termed as a significant amount to help the cash-strapped local administration.

But officials who had started the move had said with the Darjeeling civic body running up “an overdraft of Rs 70 lakh every two months” while paying the salaries of its employees, any amount of revenue generated from tourist tax is a welcome relief.

The municipality spends around Rs 1.04 crore monthly to pay its staff. Only about Rs 65 lakh comes from the state government. The state government pays 80 per cent of the salaries of the permanent civic staff. But for the casual employees, the municipality has to pay the entire amount.

The new board is hopeful of reviving the tourist tax soon, though under a different name.

“The initiatives started by the previous board were positive moves but we will have to look into various aspects of the scheme before deciding to restart it. Personally, I feel we should not call it tourist tax as it sends a wrong message. After all the tourists who come do spend in Darjeeling. We will probably think of another name. Also we need to think of an innovative method of collecting taxes instead of stopping the vehicles at one place and creating traffic congestion during the peak tourist season,” said Amar Singh Rai, chairperson of the Darjeeling municipality. One suggestion that is doing the rounds is collecting taxes from hotels.