Traders across the city intensified their agitation against the proposed Local Body Tax (LBT) on Monday by going on indefinite strike and forcing retail shops that chose to stay open to also down their shutters.
The agitating traders made life tough for Mumbaiites by not just forcibly shutting shops but also by blocking traffic, prompting the police to resort to lathicharge at Cotton Exchange and Marine Lines. People were also inconvenienced in several areas as grocery and provision shops were forced to down shutters.
If the strike continues, it will affect the availability and price of essential items and electronic goods, among other things.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, however, remained firm on the government’s decision to implement LBT, though he has now set up a committee to talk with traders on the issue. The state government has decided to impose LBT instead of octroi in Mumbai from October 1.
Traders have threatened that the strike will continue until LBT is scrapped. “The state was harsh on us though we were peaceful,” said Viren Shah, president, Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association.
Shah denied that several traders were forced to join the strike. “It is just a rumour. Everyone joined voluntarily,” he said.
Traders allege that the new tax will mean another layer of red-tapism or, what they call, Inspector Raj. State officials point out that in reality traders are upset as LBT will give civic authorities the power to inspect their accounts and transactions, which will force them to bring transparency into their business.
On Monday, majority of the retail shops remained closed, as did the bustling south Mumbai markets such as Zaveri Bazaar, Dagina Bazar, Kalbadevi and Crawford Market stayed shut. Wholesalers have been on strike since April 22.
The CM said he was willing to talk to the traders. “The government is open to discussing the issue further. Traders should nominate their representatives as early as possible,” Chavan said.
Chavan insisted that LBT would bring in transparency. “The records kept by traders would be in accordance with that of VAT and income tax and bring in more transparency,” he said, ruling out the alternative of a surcharge on value added tax (VAT) instead of LBT. The CM pointed out that LBT was an urban tax and linking it to VAT would burden the rural people.
“Let them levy surcharge on VAT as done by many other states,” said Mohan Gurnani, president, Federation of Association of Maharashtra.