Govt drops ESMA bomb to squash traders' stir

With traders across Maharashtra finding it difficult to defend their rigid posture against the local body tax (LBT), the Democratic Front state government has decided to square up to their confrontationist stance. 

“Do not force the government to invoke provisions of the Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma), 1968 or Bombay Shops and Establishments Act,” state chief secretary Jayantkumar Banthia warned representatives of traders on Monday.

At war: State government has threatened striking traders with ESMA which is a central law that ensures the delivery of certain essential services for the normal functioning of the country. File Pic

Esma is a central law which ensures the delivery of certain essential services for the normal functioning of the country.

Banthia is heading a committee appointed by the chief minister that comprises senior government officials and municipal commissioners of Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Nagpur, Navi Mumbai and Kalyan-Dombivli.

The panel’s first meeting was held on Monday, and soon after, the chief secretary held discussions with representatives of traders’ organisations on the contentious tax issue.

The chief secretary insisted that traders withdraw their agitation immediately, since traders from Nagpur had already pulled out and the ones in Mumbai were facing a rift, said a government official. Banthia asked the delegates to submit their views in writing instead of discussing them orally.

When traders did not present their observations right after the meeting, it was suggested that they submit them by evening. Later, while speaking with media persons, Banthia said at least 45 per cent shops were open and an influential body of traders, Nag Vidarbha Chamber, had backed out of the protest.

“I have told municipal commissioners across the state to discuss this issue with local leaders and traders before a video-conference meeting scheduled on Wednesday,” the chief secretary said.

He shared with traders comparative figures of octroi and LBT collections in Aurangabad and Kalyan municipal bodies, which show an increase in revenue after the introduction of LBT.

According to sources, traders do not want a two-way mechanism to pay taxes. They are worried about Inspection Raj, what with the stipulated visits additionally by municipal staff to conduct scrutiny.

The government has clarified that the power to conduct raids will not remain with local officers but with the principal secretary of the urban development department, said sources. 

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