Monday, May 20, 2024

Not Sleeping Beauty

The gradual but sure-footed descent of Dimapur from a vibrant and thriving trade centre towards a com mercial pariah has been happening right before our eyes. Various movements, committees and organisations, over the years, have launched multiple attempts to expunge the primary cause of this freefall: “taxations” by several armed Naga groups and numerous Government agencies. But the disease remains and citizens continue to pay the heaviest price. In our October 2 edition, on the eve of Durga Puja holidays, Nagaland Page once again highlighted how Dimapur is losing its customers – especially those from other districts and States, a large constituency – to the neighbouring small towns of Assam. As reported, traders in Dimapur traditionally used to register boom sales during two seasons a year: Christmas and New Year, and Durga Puja and Diwali. But current market trends, which show an alarming decline in sales, suggest that the balance has been upended. According to a young man who had shifted from Dimapur to Assam’s Bokajan, markets in the tiny town have grown extensively over the years and very recently Reliance Trendz and other brands have made investments there, fuelling its growth. As a result, those across that side of the border need not come to Dimapur for shopping anymore. Even retailers in Bokajan, who used to depend on Dimapur, have now shifted to Kolkata, Delhi, and Guwahati “because of a number of reasons”, he said. In May this year, the Dimapur Chamber of Commerce and Industry (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. The DCCI reminded that it is the bounden duty of the Government to take stringent measures to curb such illegal activities, which amount to daylight robbery. It stated that while Dimapur has been called the ‘commercial hub’ of Nagaland for long, in reality, most commercial activities have shifted to neighbouring towns in Assam. “Sadly, Dimapur at present is no longer a vibrant commercial hub due to rampant and illegal taxation by both Government agencies and various groups. It is the collective responsibility of the Government and every citizen of Dimapur to see that the city prospers and flourishes”, it asserted. The rampant nature of illegal taxation that is pinching the common men’s pockets was illustrated through the Puja Committee’s budget for idols. According to one of the members, in 2019, 2020, and 2021, the respective prices for similar idols were Rs 25 thousand, Rs 30 thousand and Rs 35 thousand. A yearly increase of Rs 5,000! The DCCI’s SOS to the State Government in May this year was preceded by a similar message in August last year. Back then, a clearly exasperated DCCI asked Nagaland Government to provide a solution to the “multi-tier taxation” that is crippling the business community in Dimapur. Its question to the State Government was pointed and direct: “The business community is contributing a major chunk of revenue to the State Government in the form of GST. Now the business community would also like to seek an answer from the State Government – whether we should pay taxes to the various groups or the State Government?” It came with the added assertion that the business community of Dimapur can no longer bear the brunt of multi-tier taxation. Back then too, it pointed out that prices of essential commodities and other goods are 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. “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. That was on August 31 last year. More than a year and a month later, it is yet to wake up. Unfortunately, this is not Sleeping Beauty and no prince is coming to awaken our Government.