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Tax terror in its newest form puts Kokrajhar on edge

Tax terror in its newest form puts Kokrajhar on edge

Author: Samudra Gupta Kashyap
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: December 14, 2011
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/tax-terror-in-its-newest-form-puts-kokrajhar-on-edge/887408/0

What does a doctor working in an Assam government hospital in a district town - also the headquarters or the virtual capital of the Bodoland Territorial Council - do when he gets a call from a militant group on his mobile phone asking him to pay Rs 1 lakh every month? He packs up his bags and runs, to Guwahati or anywhere he considers safe.

This is what happened last week to all 28 doctors working in the Rupnath Brahma Civil Hospital in Kokrajhar in western Assam. They had been asked not only to pay up Rs 1 lakh each by Saturday morning, but also to make regular monthly payments, obviously of Rs 1 lakh, from the New Year.

"Yes, it is a fact that some doctors were asked to pay Rs 1 lakh each. But, even as the district administration was trying to provide them security, all of them fled out of panic," said Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. "Law and order (in Kokrajhar district) has turned somewhat bad. We have already transferred the SP out."

It is not just "some doctors" who have received such calls. "Doctors, engineers, contractors, schoolteachers, nurses, drivers, paan shop owners - no one has been spared. In fact, salaried people as well as those in any kind of business have been paying 'tax' to different groups in Kokrajhar and the other three districts under the Territorial Council for several years," said Pramod Boro, president of the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU).

Two days after the 28 doctors fled, only five patients remained in the 300-bed hospital after relatives shifted most of the others to hospitals in Guwahati, Bongaigaon, Barpeta or Siliguri. The government has dispatched six doctors to Kokrajhar from Guwahati, but patients haven't returned because of the prevailing uncertainty.

The situation is similar in the subdivisional hospital at Gossaigaon.

People living in the four BTC districts - Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska and Udalguri - are used to extortion, especially the regular "tax" that has been imposed on them by various militant groups for several decades. "There was a time when the National Democratic Front of Bodoland created different tax slabs for different categories of people, and even the petty cycle-repair man in the weekly haat was not spared," said a former police officer who had twice been posted in Kokrajhar.

There was a time when extortion notices were personally served to officers, businessmen and contractors. "Nowadays, people complain that they get an SMS, and often the person who is dispatched to collect the money is an immigrant Muslim," said Lawrence Islary, president of the district unit of the ABSU. The student body took out a protest rally in Kokrajhar on Monday calling for an end to extortion.

"Collection of 'tax' by some groups has been on for years, but what happened last week is unprecedented. Doctors remain untouched even during wars," said UG Brahma, a former Rajya Sabha member. "Now, the situation only proves that there has been a total breakdown in law and order. I would squarely blame the state government for this. Not a minister has bothered to visit Kokrajhar. All are issuing statements sitting in Guwahati."

The state government has reports about the anti-talk NDFB faction going all out to extort "tax".

A series of abductions have taken place during the year, with the hostages ranging from officials of private companies working on the East-West Corridor and railway projects, to government officers, businessmen (and their children), and even small shopkeepers. In February, six WWF field workers including three women were abducted in adjoining Chirang district. At least four persons have been gunned down for not paying tax.

Chief Minister Gogoi has gone on record that while members of banned outfits continue to extort money, there were also reports of extortion and other crimes committed by the cadres of groups that are currently going through a ceasefire.

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