Thursday, January 16, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Exempt Mandi Board from IT: Capt, Badal
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 15
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Leader of the Opposition Parkash Singh Badal are together at least on one issue — the income of the Punjab Mandi Board should be exempt from income tax.

“It is a serious issue. We will oppose it. The income generated by the board is utilised in development of infrastructure, including the road network to facilitate the movement of foodgrains and provision of better basic facilities in the grain markets. It is not profit rather a basic source of funding rural development,” says Mr Badal, holding that his party would oppose any move to bring the board income under income tax purview from April 1 .

“I am not aware of this move. If it is there, we will take it up with the Union Ministry of Finance. The money earned by the board is legitimately being spent on rural development and development of infrastructure to facilitate the movement of foodgrains from farms to the grain markets,” remarked the Chief Minister.

The Ministry of Finance has reportedly instructed that all public sector undertakings making profits should be brought under the purview of income tax. Though surveys started a couple of years ago the move was accorded legal sanctity in the last Finance Bill.

Reports indicate that even Union Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh has taken up the matter with Mr Jaswant Singh, his counterpart in the Ministry of Finance, on the plea that the collection of market fee could not be taken as profit as the funds so generated are used for development of the rural marketing infrastructure and provision of the basic civic amenities in the grain markets. Most agricultural states have agricultural marketing boards.

These boards could not be equated with other corporations and boards which were in trading and making profits. This unanimity apart, both Capt Amarinder Singh and Mr Parkash Singh Badal are poles apart on other issues related to farmers and their welfare. The Punjab Chief Minister spares no words in criticising the NDA Government — of which the SAD has been an important component — for setting up the Kelkar Committee which, among other recommendations, wanted that income from the agriculture sector should be taxed.

“Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa has been a part of the Union Government which had set up this committee. If the Akalis take pride in calling themselves a party of peasants, why they have become a party to the anti-farmer recommendation of the Kelkar Committee,” asks Capt Amarinder Singh, declaring that the Punjab Government would not accept any such recommendation.

“For us, the interests of Punjab and its people in general and farmers in particular are of utmost importance. In case the NDA Government takes any decision which is against the interests of Punjab, we would not only oppose it but also come out of it,” remarked Mr Badal, maintaining that it was the Congress which had during its 45-year rule at the Centre given step-motherly treatment to Punjab.

“On the other hand, the NDA Government had not only been very sympathetic to Punjab and its farmers but also restored respectability and honour of the Sikhs. There was one government which sent the security forces to the Golden Temple and the other government sent its three defence chiefs to salute the land of the birth of the Khalsa. “Not only that, during the five-year SAD-BJP rule, the NDA Government had been increasing the MSP of both kharif and rabi crops substantially,” said Mr Badal.

The Punjab Chief Minister, however, has a different feeling about the Centre. “If the NDA Government has been so friendly to farmers of Punjab, why it did not allow Punjab Government so far to clear its stocks of sugar. Instead, we have been forced to take our share of levy sugar from Gujarat where the Assembly elections have been just held and also Maharashtra where the elections may be due soon. I have written a letter to the Prime Minister.

The Chief Minister, however, admitted that a letter had been received from the Centre for disbursement of Rs 20 per quintal as a special relief among farmers of Punjab on account of their increased cost of production because of the drought-like conditions in the state. The disbursement of Rs 30 per quintal as bonus on paddy would also start in a day or two as the state government had kept aside Rs 50 crore for this purpose, the Chief Minister added.

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