Shillong: Is it the right time to tax the farmers while they are trying to make ends meet amid this pandemic? This is one question that has been doing the rounds. Having to throw away vegetables when it rots is one of the many problems of the farmers, while another plight of the farmers in Meghalaya is to pay taxes for using the space or to setup their stalls at a makeshift market at a parking lot opposite Anjalee Cinema in Shillong.
Farmers from different villages in Shillong and also from different districts have been given the opportunity to sell their goods at the makeshift market that was publicly announced by the government a few months ago.
However, what has gone unnoticed for several months was that the farmers have been paying for using the space or for setting up their stalls to sell their goods at this makeshift market. The amount varies from Rs 30-50 for the stall and another Rs 10 is charged per basket.
Every Monday to Saturday vegetable sellers/ farmers would travel from parts of the city with their baskets filled with various vegetables and use a particular spot, spreading out their goods for the customers.
While EastMojo interacted with the vendors it was seen that there was no fixed amount charged. The amount kept varying from every three to four groups.
B Nongrum a vegetable seller said, “For setting up my stall here I am made to pay Rs 20 and while entry per basket it is Rs 10. It is not right that they are charging us money during this time of crisis. All the farmers during this lockdown are facing a lot of issues and a major loss. We don’t know who is the person charging us this money, but when we ask them they tell us that we have to pay for selling our goods here or to set up the shops. And if we don’t pay they don’t allow us to set up our shops so we are forced to pay.”
While another vegetable vendor who mostly sells coriander complained of how she had to pay Rs 60 every day. She also said that the money would have been enough to buy lunch for the day.
“I sell only coriander, there are days that I sell carrots also but most days I sell only coriander. They don’t have a fixed amount, today I was charged Rs 40 and later another collection is made which is Rs 20. I feel it is a huge loss for us, apart from hiring a vehicle from the village to come to the city to sell our goods which costs us Rs 1,000 and then the taxes here, so it’s a challenge for us all. That Rs 60 we are paying here we can save it for lunch,” said the lady selling coriander.
Upon asking if she was aware who is collecting the money, she said, “Just today I questioned them for what are they taxing us and that also twice a day. So they told me that one is for the municipal and the other is for the volunteers who look after this makeshift market.”
While speaking to the parking in-charge, who wished to stay anonymous, he said that they do collect for parking and for cleaning the waste that is left behind by the vendors. He added, “For sweeping the area we charge them depending on the waste they are leaving behind. So if it is a lot of waste we charge them Rs 20 and if less waste Rs 10.”
Meanwhile Urban Affairs Minister, Hamlet Dohling said that he was unaware till a few days ago when it was brought to light.
“I have called the officers to verify about the same and it came to light that the order was issued by Municipal to collect Rs 10 per basket. But I am not happy with this order and have directed the officer’s incharge to revoke the order immediately,” said Dohling.
He added that no tax should be imposed on the farmers at the time of crisis.
When asked if any compensation will be made to the farmers, Dohling said, “I can’t say if the farmers will be compensated or not because this issue was brought to light a few days ago. So the question of compensation does not arise at this juncture. This is a temporary arrangement and it is not wise to levy any tax on the farmers during such a crisis. Farmers shouldn’t be put under the pressure to pay any tax right now.”
Agriculture Minister Banteidor Lyngdoh said that he was unaware and will look into the matter. “This is not the time to tax farmers but the time to help the farmers,” said Lyngdoh.