Staff Reporter

Protest against amendment to Income Tax Act

KOCHI: Seafood exporting units in the State will go on a three-day strike from Monday against a recent amendment to the Income Tax Act to cover as taxable income, income from Duty Entitlement Passbook (DEPB) Scheme for units with export turnovers above Rs.10 crores.

Anwar Hasheem, president of the Kerala chapter of the Seafood Exporters' Association of India (SEAI), said that of the nearly 50 active seafood exporters in the State, 23 have export turnover above Rs.10 crores. These units also account for about 95 per cent of the seafood exports from the State.

Kerala units account for a total of Rs.1,080 crores exports annually. Of this, about Rs.970 crores is accounted for by the 23 companies that fall under the Rs.10-crore or above bracket, said Mr. Hasheem.

The Government decision virtually sounded the death knell for the seafood industry, he said adding that this would hit over three million poor people who depended on the seafood industry for their livelihoods. Mr. Hasheem warned that the exporters would not hesitate to stop indefinitely procurement, processing and exports if the Government did not reconsider its decision. The seafood exporters would join hands with exporters in other sectors and resort to legal action too, he added.

The seafood industry was now being asked to cough up about Rs.400 crores in tax arrears on DEPB income between 1997-98 and 2003-04. The demand comes at a time when the seafood export industry is pleading with the Government for a one-time settlement of the arrears of sick seafood units. "The total combined reserves of the units in the industry will not even in the range of Rs.100 crores," said Mr. Hasheem as he tried to describe the grim situation.

The strike is a result of the helplessness of the industry, he said. "The unfairness, discrimination and breach of trust placed by the export sector in Government policy coupled with the inability and helplessness of the crisis-ridden marine products industry have forced the sector to decide on a stoppage of all purchase and production for a period of three days," said a statement.

Mr. Hasheem claimed that seafood exports would not touch Rs.6,000 crore during the current financial year. The major reason for this was the Chinese dominance in the U.S. and Japanese shrimp markets. China had produced more than six lakh tonnes white shrimp and has been selling at rates cheaper than Indian black and tiger shrimps. As a result, Japan has reduced its purchase from India.