A committee set up by the government says the extortion at check posts has the “blessings” of higher authorities
Guwahati, May 22: While trucks entering or leaving Assam are stopped and fleeced in the name of taxes and permits, there are also instances when the vehicles are allowed to enter the state without any checks.
There have been numerous complaints and FIRs against the malpractices at the two check gates at Chagalia and Srirampur. But nothing has happened.
The Inquiry Committee report on the loot at the check gates, which was reported in The Indian Express, refers to possible “blessings from some higher authorities”. It specifically refers to a note sent by Sarifa Begum, former minister of state for transport in the government headed by Tarun Gogoi, in which she asks the District Transport Officer of Dhubri to allow a non-official to let a certain number of 10-wheeler vehicles through the check gate every day.
“The officials told me they have to allow these types of things as orders come from their higher authorities,” said C.K. Das, a senior IAS officer of the rank of additional chief secretary who headed the Inquiry Committee.
While the note sent by the minister was probably the only written piece of evidence of instructions coming from higher-ups, it is common knowledge that such instructions aren’t unusual.
The report holds senior officials of the departments concerned with the gates and says they are party to the irregular practices. “They cannot say they do not know what happens at Chagalia and Srirampur. Circumstances show they are either a party to this large-scale, unabated, systematic corruption or are too timid to stand up to protect the public fund,” it said.
And the impact is that “money paid in the gates by the truckers as bribe has to be collected back by the traders from the public of Assam by raising the selling price of the goods,” it said. “Extortion of money...appears to be ome of the major causes of higher prices of many commodities in Assam,” the report added.
“Inaction on the part of the civil administration and police of Dhubri and Kokrajhar districts and lack of strong action on the part of Transport, Finance (Taxation) and other departments remain unexplained as the irregularities continue in an organised manner,” Das said in his report.
The report also held the DCs and SPs of the two districts responsible. “They are in a better position today to get information about extortion especially about any kind of open, long-continuing and day-light extortion. Inaction for so long in such a situation cannot continue unless there is support and blessings from some higher authorities,” it said. The report also calls them “too timid to act”.
The Inquiry Committee report, which has been lying with the government for more than a year now, had recommended the immediate transfer of not just all the officers and employees posted at the two gates, but also a whole range of senior officers. This included the Commissioner of Taxes, Commissioner of Transport, Commissioner of Excise, Chief Conservator of Forest (Territorial), Chief Executive Officer, Assam State Agriculture Marketing Board, Deputy Commissioners and SPs of Kokrajhar and Dhubri. Also, officers who have been in these departments for many years and who are expected to know what happens at the check gates are also at the receiving end.
The government sat on the report till an RTI application took the report to the State Information Commission. The government had initially turned down the RTI applicant’s request for a copy of the report but finally parted with it after the intervention of the State Chief Information Commissioner. The State Chief Information Commissioner said in his order, “It was an open public inquiry by a public order issued by the government...It was never designed to be a secret inquiry...The declared objective of the RTI Act is to promote transparency...”
Assam losing crores to extortionists at border: panel report
A report by a one-man inquiry committee has revealed how Assam loses huge sums of money because trucks entering the state are looted every day.
Though the report was submitted in April 2007, the government sat on it until an RTI applicant's request took the report to the State Information Commission. The report is not just about how the load in trucks is "under-assessed", but also about how individuals ranging from government employees to political leaders, ministers and even underground outfits and self-styled NGOs benefit by way of bribes and extortions at the two gates-Baxirhat (Chagalia) and Srirampur-on the Assam-West Bengal border.
The report, which is with The Indian Express though the applicant is yet to get a copy, said, "On an average, the state government appears to be losing several hundred crores a year due to corruption at these two check gates. What is more surprising is the apparent silence and unwillingness on the part of senior officers of departments like Transport and the Commissioner of Taxes etc...to stop this," the report said.
The one-man inquiry committee, headed by C.K. Das, a senior IAS officer of the rank of additional chief secretary, was set up following some newspaper reports and a discussion in the state assembly in September 2005. Das visited the Chagalia (Baxirhat) and Srirampur check gates on the Assam-West Bengal border on April 27 and 28, 2006, and submitted his 32-page report on April 7, 2007.
The report details how officials of several government and non-government groups are extorting money in the name of various taxes. The transport and sales tax departments are supposed to check the commercial vehicles at these posts.
While the official penalty rate is Rs 1,000 for every extra tonne of goods apart from the normal entry fee, every overloaded truck is forced to pay a flat rate Rs 1,400 to the officials. Page 23 of the report clearly says that while trucks are forced to pay huge sums when entering Assam, they have to pay only about Rs 80 when they enter West Bengal from, say, Bihar.
"Six-wheelers and 10-wheelers normally carry extra loads of 11 to 25 tonnes. In a day, on an average, 1,400 trucks cross Srirampur either way. If one pair of a six-wheel and a 10-wheel truck has to pay Rs 3,600 as fine, one can imagine how much the government should get every day as fines in this check gate," the report said.
Apart from this rate at the gate, each truck is also required to make the following payments: Rs 400 to tax officials, Rs 200 to the Agriculture Marketing Board personnel, Rs 130 to the Excise department staff and Rs 20 to the forest department staff. The motor vehicle inspector (MVI) posted at the gate collects another amount of between Rs 300 and Rs 400 to finally allow a truck to pass through.
One check gate belongs to the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), an underground group that is currently in a ceasefire with the government. Every truck is bound to cough up Rs 400 at this gate. Within a few metres is another gate put up by the Adivasi Cobra Militants, another armed group. This group is smaller than the NDFB and so is the rate-Rs 100 a truck.
A few kilometres from the inter-state border, the Simautapu police outpost has engaged some local toughs to collect between Rs 150 and Rs 250 a truck. On the toll gate at Bir Chilarai bridge in Dhubri district, each truck has to pay up to Rs 200 against a government rate of Rs 10 to Rs 20. This is followed by a series of collection points along the national highway. And then there is one gate where some local boys collect Rs 100 a truck in the name of pollution check.
"There are some unauthorised private counters on both sides of the road (at Chagalia). The owners of these counters mostly collect the papers and money from the truck drivers and act as middlemen between truck drivers and the check posts," the report said.
The most interesting extortion however is by the Assam State Agriculture Marketing Board (ASAMB), a board under the state agriculture department, which has declared the entire district of Kokrajhar as a market. There is no market at Srirampur, and thus the Board has no business to set up check gates here.