The Indian high commission has moved into the “Top 5” of the list of London-based foreign missions who owe more than £95 million to authorities as a charge introduced in 2003 to reduce traffic congestion and raise funds for the transport system.
Called “congestion charge”, every vehicle entering a zone in central London marked by the letter “C” needs to pay £11.50 a day from Monday to Friday between 7am and 6pm (some emergency vehicles are exempted). Failure to pay invites a penalty of £130.
Since its introduction in 2003, the missions of India and nearly 70 countries – dubbed a “stubborn minority” – have refused to pay the charge for their vehicles, on the ground that it is a “tax” and they are exempted from paying it under the Vienna Convention.
This, however, is disputed by Transport for London (TfL), a government body that believes it is not a tax but a charge for a “service”, and as such, foreign missions are not exempted. The impasse has continued over the years, with the overall dues amounting to £97,048,600.
According to TfL’s list of “defaulters”, India owes it £4,477,605 for the period from 2003 to January 6, 2016. From the sixth position, India has now moved to fifth. The US embassy tops the list, with dues of £10,600,255. The missions of Japan, Russia, Germany and France too are on the list.
A spokesperson of the Indian mission told Hindustan Times: “We believe that the congestion charge imposed by the UK authorities was not a service charge but a tax, which should be exempted under the Vienna Convention and therefore the Indian high commission, like several diplomatic missions in London, do not pay the congestion charge.”
Seeking a solution in the International Court of Justice, a TfL spokesperson said: “We and the UK government are clear that the congestion charge is a charge for a service and not a tax. This means that diplomats are not exempt from paying it.
“Around three quarters of embassies in London do pay the charge, but there remains a stubborn minority who refuse to do so, despite our representations through diplomatic channels.”
TfL said it will continue to pursue all unpaid fees and related penalty charge notices, and push for the matter to be taken up at the International Court of Justice.
During US President Barack Obama’s visit to London in May 2011, his cavalcade was fined £120 for not paying the congestion charge.