The confusion over check gates has cleared somewhat after Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal said on Sunday that only illegal check gates are being closed down. Since the huge sums collected in illegal check gates do not flow into State coffers, Sonowal exhorted the DCs and SPs to act forthwith against all such check gates in their districts. As for departmentally approved check gates, these will continue but no illegal activities or goonda tax extortion will be allowed, the CM has warned. So approved check gates in the State run by Transport, Excise, Forest and Agriculture departments will continue, including those on inter-state borders at places like Srirampur, Chagolia and Digharkhal. The confusion arose after the new cabinet met last Wednesday, deciding among other to do away with check gates 'which had become the hub of syndicates and illegal activities'. This prompted the Transport department to close down some border check posts even though the Excise department continued to levy taxes there. Now that the air has been cleared, the new government has a herculean task on its hands to clean up approved check gates. These check gates should be levying approved taxes and duties while preventing unlawful transportation of commodities. Instead, the State exchequer is defrauded as corrupt check gate officials line their pockets with bribes from traders and transporters. The Assam State Agricultural Marketing Board (ASAMB) operates 26 check gates in the State. A departmental inquiry itself has blown the lid off the loot that goes on in these check gates. The ASAMB check gate at Boxirhat in Dhubri district collected cess totaling around Rs 2.96 crore in the period February-May last year. After strict vigilance measures were put in place this year, around Rs 5.57 crore cess was collected in the same period. This indicates that if revenue collection in check gates is not strictly monitored, corrupt officials skim off half or more of the collections. The same distressing pattern was seen in the ASAMB check gates at Guwahati, Jorhat and Tinsukia BG points. Agricultural commodities brought into Assam from outside were fraudulently shown to be transported to neighboring states like Meghalaya, galand and Aruchal; thereby traders were allowed to unload the commodities in Assam without paying cess — so long as they bribed the officials. The departmental inquiry showed that based on market sales figures, the cess collected at the ASAMB check gate in Jorhat BG point from March 2012 to February 2013 should have totaled around Rs 4.18 crore, but the actual collection was less than half at Rs 2 crore. Similarly, the actual cess collection from March 2013 to February 2014 stood at around Rs 2.19 crore, when it should have been more than double at Rs 5.53 crore. If this is the scale of check gate scam in just the Agriculture department, the rampant loot in other department check gates can well be imagined. Small wonder indeed that though the Assam government has been targeting additiol revenue generation from various tural resources to the tune of Rs 1,200-1,500 crore every fiscal in last several years, actual collections have been only one-third of that. The Chief Minister has cleared the air over check gates and how the approved ones are vital for revenue collection. But cleaning the Augean stables of corruption in these check gates is another matter.
Check gate confusion