Express News Service
GUWAHATI: The traders in Nagaland have confronted the state government asking how justified is the collection of “taxes” by the armed groups, even as shops and commercial establishments across the state protested with a day-long strike on Thursday.
Businesses in the state have their back broken as the traders are required to pay multiple taxes to as many as 10 armed groups, including the well-known factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland/Nagalim or NSCN.
For years, the traders and business persons have silently paid the taxes for the fear of the gun. Now, they have started speaking up. Protests against, what is locally called “taxation”, were spearheaded by some civil society organisations in the past. The shutdown on Thursday, however, was unprecedented as it affected the entire state.
There is hardly any resistance from the government. In fact, successive governments have remained blind to this deeply-rooted malaise that is affecting the lives of all and sundry.
The Confederation of Nagaland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CNCCI) asked the Neiphiu Rio government to act if it feels this is an illegal activity.
“We have asked the government to clarify if this is legal or illegal. If the government says this is illegal, it has to control this with the help of resources and manpower that it has at its disposal. If the government says it is legal, we have to increase the prices of commodities manifold because we have to survive,” CNCCI chairman Khekugha Muru told this newspaper.
The traders in the country pay one tax (GST) but those in Nagaland are required to pay 12-13 taxes.
Muru said the crux of the problem was the unresolved Naga political issue. He said the Government of India, Naga armed groups, and the state government should have a will to settle the Naga issue. If the problem is settled, there will then be just one tax.
“There are items that come with MRP. If we sell those above MRP, the consumers will not pay it. It is also illegal. But if we are to sell the products within MRP, we won’t have any margin. In fact, we will suffer losses. This is what the traders are struggling within Nagaland,” Muru added.
Dimapur is the state’s commercial hub. The Dimapur Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) said there is no fixation of the tax rates.
“Some pay the taxes in lakhs, some in thousands. There are business, godown, agency, transportation taxes etc. All the groups collect money from every goods-laden truck or train that enters Nagaland,” DCCI president Akashe Zhimomi said.
He said the owner of a small shop is required to pay Rs 40,000-Rs 50,000 as taxes a year. Even the pan shops are not spared, he said.
“We have asked the government to tell us if it is taxation or extortion. We have also asked how the government is going to ensure the welfare and security of business persons. We are awaiting a response,” Zhimomi added.
The rebel groups in Nagaland run parallel governments and they have ministries and “kilonsers” (ministers). Some of the groups are accused of indulging in gunrunning and drugs trade by the central agencies.