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VAT Bills amid opposition
December, 23rd 2009

The state government has managed to pass two Bills in the Bihar Legislative Assembly on Tuesday after the Opposition forced a head count by the Speaker to reject the amendments moved by it.

The Bihar Land Dispute Redressal Bill, 2009, and the Bihar Value Added Tax (VAT) Amendment Bill, 2009, were stongly defended by chief minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy CM Sushil Modi. Both of them said they had expected the Opposition to support the Bills.

Bihar Land Dispute Redressal Bill, 2009, which was moved by revenue and land reforms minister Narendra Narayan Yadav aims at giving revenue officials jucidial powers to solve land disputes within three months. Cases related to dispossession of the beneficiaries from the government land given to them, ceiling land, Basgit (homestead) Parcha and even private disputes will be now heard by the deputy collectors land reforms (DCLRs).

The verdict has to be given within three months. Those who are not satisified with the decision are entitled tto appeal to the commissioners concerned.

The Bill met with strong resistance from Ram Dev Verma (CPM) who alleged that the move was aimed at scuttling the rights of sharecroppers. Verma moved an amendment opposing the tabling of the Bill which was rejected by 79 votes against it and 49 in favour.

CM Nitish Kumar defended the Bill saying, "At the Janata Durbars for over last four years, I've been getting complaints from the poor about not getting possession of land given to them or being dispossessed by somebody. I felt helpless because they were judicial matters.

The persons coming to me were desperate because they were not getting justice even at the CM's level." He pointed out that land revenue officials of UP had already been been given judicial power. Nitish clarified that the judicial powers vested in land revenue officials were not for deciding the title of the land but for quick disposal of the pending disputes.

Earlier, Opposition members like Achyutanand (LJP), Kishore Kumar Munna (Ind) and Ram Dev Rai strongly opposed the Bihar VAT Amendment Bill, 2009, which seeks to exempt businessmen having a turnover up to Rs one crore annaul turnover from having to get their accounts audited by a chartered accountant or a cost accountant. Earlier, the ceiling was Rs 40 lakh per annum.

The Opposition MLAs opposing the Bill criticized Modi for "only safeguarding the interest of the traders and doing nothing for the poor". An amendment was moved seeking to refer the Bill to a select committee of the House which was rejected by 74 votes against and 44 in favour.

Modi said the Bill had nothing to do with revenue collection. He pointed out that while accounts of 10 per cent of the registered traders would be randomly checked by the finance department's internal audit sytem, the Bill was to save small traders from having to pay Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 a year to chartered accountants. He pointed out that 94 per cent of the tax collection was through 10 per cent of the top registered businessmen.

"The Opposition has made sweeping remarks against traders by calling them black markteers. I know one-third of the MLAs are also into business," Modi retorted.

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