A decision by the Jammu and Kashmir government to impose service tax on commercial helicopter services has brought the alliance partners BJP and PDP at loggerheads with each other.
The decision, according to sources, has irked the Bharatiya Janata Party which has sought its roll back immediately, while Finance Minister Dr. Haseeb Drabu blamed “some parties” for “trying to communalize a simple administrative order applicable across J&K.”
The two notifications issued by the Finance Ministry, which have become a bone of contention between the alliance partners, read: “SRO 296: In exercise of powers conferred by section 4 of the Jammu and Kashmir General Sales Tax Act 1962, the government hereby directs that in Schedule “B” to notification SRO 117 of 2007 dated 30-3-2007, the following entry shall be added after entry 27 namely: “28, Services provided by ropeway/cable car operators.”
The other SRO No 297 reads: “In exercise of powers conferred by section 4 of the JK General Sales Tax Act 1962, the government hereby directs that the schedule B to notification SRO 117 of 2007 dated 30-03-2007, the following entry shall be added after entry 28 namely: ‘29. Commercial Helicopter Services operating within the state.”
A senior Finance department official said the decision was taken to “firm up state resources.” “Service tax of 12.5 percent being levied will be applicable on all commercial chopper services operating in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
According to sources, BJP leaders have demanded the government should immediately withdraw the decision to impose tax on commercial helicopter services in the state, saying “it will mostly impact Amarnath and Vaishno Devi pilgrims availing such services.”
The party, which is a junior partner in the state government, said it was not informed about the decision and insisted that its nominee and Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh had “lodged a strong protest” with the Chief Minister.
According to BJP spokesperson, Khalid Jehangir, the party has raised strong objections to the “unilateral decision taken by Finance Ministry.”
“Our party was not taken into confidence. Otherwise we would have not allowed the government to impose service tax on helicopter services to pilgrimage sites,” he said. “The Deputy Chief Minister has already taken up the matter with the PDP.”
“We have got assurance that service tax on helicopter services would be rolled back soon,” he said. “There is also subsidy on Hajj pilgrimage. We are not against it. In fact BJP is supporting promotion of religious tourism in J&K.”
Commenting on the issue, Finance Minister, DrHaseebDrabu said Service Tax is also being charged on ropeways and cable car services, which carry tourists and pilgrims to not only tourist resorts but also to some revered shrines in Kashmir Valley. “There is no question of charging such a tax on a particular route,” he said.
“Similar tax is being imposed on chopper services ferrying tourists to exotic spots like Gulmarg and Pahalgam,” he said.
Drabu said levying of service tax “only adds Rs 130 to the cost of the chopper ticket on any route in Jammu and Kashmir.”
The Minister expressed dismay over “reckless and provocative remarks of some political parties” on the matter. He accused them of “trying to communalize a simple administrative order applicable throughout the State.”
According to informed sources, the actual commercial price of a helicopter ticket to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine is Rs 700 only, and the Shrine Board loads another Rs 300 to the ticket cost as “landing fees.” The service tax to be levied by the government will add only Rs 130 more to the cost of each ticket.
Meanwhile Congress corned the BJP with comparing the service tax on helicopter services with ‘jizya’, a tax imposed on Hindus by Mughal emperor Aurangazeb.
“Is this MrModi’s definition of jizya on pilgrims to Vaishno Devi? Is it BJP-PDP’s version of jizya on pilgrims of Vaishno Devi?” party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi had told reporters.