The flagship Goods and Services tax bill that was recently passed by parliament has been hailed as transformative in many ways. But truck drivers on India’s highways hope it will rescue them from what they call “harassment” at the border check-posts of the country.
To get the pulse of the problem, NDTV did a road trip on a truck from Maharashtra to Karnataka, crossing from Kolhapur district to Belgaum. And the picture became amply clear at Kognudi — a small sales tax check-post on national highway number 4 in Maharashtra.
At this post, truck drivers show invoices for the goods on board. But it quickly became clear that it is the norm for every truck to pay a bribe.
The amount varies from Rs. 50 to Rs. 300, depending on the size of the truck and the type of material being transported. If the documents are incomplete, the amount can exceed Rs.1,000.
Nitin Jadhav, one of the drivers, complained about how the sales tax officials at the border wrongly entered the details in his documents the last time he was crossing over to Karnataka.
Pointing at the sales office staff at Nippani, he said, “These people ask for money. First they mess up our documents and then they ask for Rs. 200 to allow us to pass.”
When the Commercial Tax Officer (CTO) at the Nippani post, Shankar Ambure, was confronted with Jadhav’s accusation, he simply walked away.
Earlier, he had denied charges of corruption saying “No bribes are taken here. Drivers have to wait because they don’t have complete paperwork to cross over.”
This is symptomatic of the deep-rooted corruption fostered by a multi-tax system along the highways, pointed out those in the trade. They hope an early rollout of the GST, implemented through an effective technology infrastructure, would reduce the “harassment”.
“Once GST sets in and all other taxes are subsumed, there will be no sales tax. We hope these check-posts will not be needed, and this harassment and trouble will end,” said Subhash Jadhav, chief of the Lorry Operators’ Association in the district.