aparajit chakraborty
KOLKATA, 21 JUNE: The state government has begun an inquiry into allegations of arbitrary tax collection from the owners of  long-distance commercial vehicles by the Public Vehicles Department (PVD) and Regional Transport Authorities (RTA).
Since 1989 the PVDs and RTAs have allegedly misappropriated crores of rupees from the owners of long-distance commercial vehicles which don’t have inter-state permits, by collecting various taxes, including registration fees, permit fees, special permit fees, road tax and additional road tax. The matter came to light when on 23 May the joint secretary of the transport department in a letter directed the directors of all PVDs and officials of RTAs "to take necessary steps against the allegations" at the earliest.
The officials of the PVDs and RTAs have been allegedly collecting the tax in cash every quarter from long-distance commercial vehicles that did not have inter-state permits, road permits, permanent contract carriage permits or long-distance commercial licences. The officials issued registration certificates to the vehicle owners without mentioning where the vehicles would ply. The joint secretary has begun the inquiry after the state transport minister Madan Mitra instructed senior officials of the transport department to investigate the matter. Under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1989 this additional quarterly tax can be collected by the PVD and RTA officials on behalf of other state transport authorities only through bank draft and not in cash. This can happen if the vehicles are covered by inter-state route permits under a reciprocal agreement laid down in the Additional Tax Act, a senior law official of the transport department said.The state transport department has never conducted an internal audit, a senior official of the transport department said. The alleged corruption by the PVD officials could have been revealed had the state government gone over the accounts, the official said. Mr Mitra has taken the initiative after an owner of  long-distance commercial vehicle, Mr Iswar Prasad Bhattacharya, a retired Air Force official, lodged a complaint with the minister. He had earlier sought details under the Right to Information Act from the transport department and all DMs in the state as to how long-distance commercial vehicles could be registered without road permits, inter-state permits and contract carriage permits. But the transport department and the DMs failed to reply. Mr Bhattacharya lodged several complaints with the transport department alleging that senior officials have been extorting crores of rupees from long-distance vehicle owners by issuing registration certificates without covering any substantive contract carriage permit and collecting the taxes. Such additional tax in cash is being collected illegally by the PVD and RTA officials and the money has not been deposited in the state government’s coffers or with other State Transport authorities, Mr Bhattacharya alleged.