Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Lies unmasked

Finally, the lid has blown off. Correction: said lid has been blown off, once again. Nearly two months ago, on March 3, the Dimapur Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) fired a warning that if the continuous harassment, intimidation, summons issued and unabated taxation collection by the swarm of armed Naga groups are not stopped immediately, the traders will have no option but to go for an indefinite shutter down in the commercial capital. Fast-forward to April 22 and the DCCI has announced an indefinite shutdown of businesses from Friday, April 26. Right after the DCCI’s warning in March, the traders’ had a meeting with the DGP of Nagaland, at the latter’s initiative. This was immediately preceded by a press release containing arrest of a few extortionists in Dimapur and its offspring districts. Now, the DCCI has made its move, so to say. According to the traders’ body, the shutter-down will be in force until the redress of their grievances. If that, indeed, is the case, then we are truly doomed. We are all witness to the gradual descent of Dimapur from a vibrant and thriving trade centre towards a commercial pariah. Over the years, various movements, committees and organisations have made multiple attempts to expunge the chief cause of this freefall: “taxations” by several armed Naga groups and numerous Government agencies. But the disease remains because those with the remedy are too busy with their machinations and politicking ~ never mind what Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasted to the world in the aftermath of August 3, 2015 signing. To recall, in May 2022, the DCCI issued a statement saying that Dimapur-based transporters are still facing the brunt of illegal taxation and harassment from various groups and anti-social elements. Back then, it reminded the State Government of its bounden duty to take stringent measures to curb such illegal activities, “which amount to daylight robbery”. This was accompanied by the statement that most commercial establishments have shifted to neighbouring towns in Assam to escape the scourge of taxation and harassment. Before the May 2022 SOS to Nagaland Government, the DCCI had in August 2021 asked Nagaland Government to provide a solution to the “multi-tier taxation” that is crippling the business community in Dimapur. Back then too, it pointed out that prices of essential commodities and other goods were much cheaper in adjoining border towns like Lahorijan or Khatkhati in Assam. This is solely because the various armed groups have targeted Dimapur as their tax base and the multiple-tier of taxation even on a single business outlet is confounding, it asserted. “Equally confounding is the lukewarm attitude of the State Government! Despite numerous representations to the Government and district administration and press releases in the local media highlighting the plight of business community due to illegal taxation, the Government of the day is still in deep slumber”, it maintained. Nearly three years later, the DCCI’s press release had this to say: “Of late, it is observed that some NPGs have gone so far as to bring their own MRP (Maximum Retail Price) sticker machines to shops with the sole intention to implicate the shop owners. Then they will call some YouTubers and news channels and allege that the shop owners are trying to manipulate the MRP. Without knowing the real motive behind such acts, these YouTubers and news channels will then upload such feeds on social media which go viral. Another devious strategy is that some NPGs plant illegal substances in shops to tarnish the reputation of the shops. After that, they will summon the shopkeepers and penalise them with hefty fines. Before indulging in such criminal acts, the perpetrators usually confiscate the CCTVs/DVR installed in shops to hide their illegal designs”. Prima facie, looks like things have only gotten worse. That too right at a time when the State Government is going all out in its attempt to airbrush Nagaland as an investor’s dream destination. At every given opportunity, our politicians and non-elected advisors are quick to claim that the “problem of insurgency” is no longer a deterrent to business investments here. If illegal taxation by more than a dozen armed groups is not a “problem of insurgency”, then the politicians and the citizens of Nagaland live in different worlds.