Vacationing or pilgrimage trips to Tamil Nadu are poised to become a big-ticket item for those in Kerala who depend upon contract carriages. The Tamil Nadu Assembly had recently passed a Bill through which the entry tax of vehicles going into that State has been heavily hiked.

When contacted the office of the Tamil Nadu Transport Commissioner informed that the new vehicle entry tax system has not been implemented. But it is in the process of being implemented with retrospective effect from April 1, 2012. When asked to explain the retrospective effect part, the officer only said that the details on it are being worked out.

Tourist bus operators in Kerala say that the hike will badly hit their business. Every day at least 4000 big and small contract carriages from Kerala reach the Velankanni-Nagore pilgrimage areas alone and during weekends the figure even touches 7000 contract carriages.

A good number of such vehicles also reach Madurai and Palani with pilgrims from Kerala. The vacation season also witnesses a heavy flow of tourists from Kerala to Courtallam, Ooty, Kodaikanal and Kanniyakumari. All this flow will be badly hit through the new entry tax system.

Under the existing system, a Kerala registered contract carriage can enter Tamil Nadu by paying a permit fee ranging from Rs.300 to Rs.400 (depending upon the seating capacity) at the Kerala RTO check post and enter Tamil Nadu. On entering that State the permit provided by Kerala should be sealed and endorsed by the Tamil Nadu RTO check post on the other side of the border.

Tourist bus driver P. Jerome said that Rs.50 (for which no receipt will be issued) has to be paid to the Tamil Nadu check post for getting the permit sealed. All this is paid by the persons who have engaged the vehicle. But under the new tax system, vehicles with more than eleven seats will have to pay a tax of Rs.600 per seat.

That works out to Rs.27, 000 as tax for a forty five seat tourist bus entering Tamil Nadu. For tourist maxi cabs the rate fixed is Rs.75 per seat. It means that an additional Rs.450 for those entering Tamil Nadu in a tourist maxi cab. The permit duration for the vehicle will be seven days.

But tourist vehicle operators said that even though the new system has not been notified, some of the transport authority check post officials in Tamil Nadu are already forcing contract carriages from Kerala to pay the new tax. This has compelled several tourist buses with tourists to drop the tour programme at the check post and return, Mr. Jerome said.

When the officials at the Puliayarai check post of Tirunelveli district Tamil Nadu across the Aryankavu border of Kerala was contacted over phone by The Hindu, it was informed that the new tax system had come into effect and the new tax will be imposed on any contract vehicle entering Tamil Nadu.

However when the Ambarampalayam check post officials of Coimbatore District were contacted, they said that no government order on levying the new tax has been issued and that the old system prevails. In the backdrop of this confusion, many contract carriage operators are not accepting tour programmes into Tamil Nadu.

As a result of this even though it is peak tour period, many such vehicles are lying idle at their respective stands. The contract carriage operators wanted the State government to intervene in the issue since it is the livelihood of thousands of persons in Kerala.

Six months ago Karnataka had also similarly hiked the entry tax into that State. As a result of that hike, hardly any Kerala registered tourist buses can now been seen operating the daily Bangalore Kerala and vice versa services. Tourist vehicle operators in Kerala said that Tamil Nadu also implementing such a tax could severely hit their livelihood. There is no such tax for vehicles from those States entering Kerala, they added.