METRO PLUS

Villain Walayar

K. N. UMESH HEADS one of the leading logistic companies in Bangalore. In Kerala, his transport company, Vijayananda Road Lines Ltd., provides employment to thousands of people. A successful businessman from Karnataka, Mr.Umesh, in fact, loves Kerala and its people. But today he is mulling over the idea of winding up his company's operation in Kerala. Many Keralites who depend on this 30-year-old transport company for a living know they will lose their job if Mr. Umesh goes ahead with this drastic decision. What is it that turns away this businessman and others from Kochi?

Loss of revenue and business owing to the inordinate delay at the Walayar checkpost, they tell you. Many who run businesses and invest in Kerala, are suffering huge losses due to the prolonged detention of their cargo carriers at Walayar. Most of them are now seriously thinking of relocating. Like

Appu Pisharady for instance. A Kochi based depot manager of a leading ayurvedic pharma company, Mr. Appu often rushes to Walayar check post to expedite the clearance formalities of their essential drug parcels.

"My company chief is fed up with this check post and its protracting formalities," rues Mr.Appu who shuttles between Kochi and Walayar four times a month. They allege it detains vehicles for days in the name of scrutiny and clearance.

"While a truck carrying nine tons of assorted goods takes only about two hours for clearance to Tami Nadu and Karnataka, vehicles are destined to wait more than 36 to 48 hours at Walayar to enter into God's own country," points out Mr.K.N.Umesh.

No wonder many of them drop their business ventures in Kerala, like a hot brick. However, the economists point out that unless the powers-that-be initiated necessary measures to ease out the scrutiny and screening formalities at check posts, its impact in economic and employment front will be detrimental to the State. It could throw many Malayalis jobless as these investors in Kerala provide employment opportunities to thousands of people in the State, they warn. It could also scare away new investors eyeing Kerala's fast growing cities like Kochi.

Ironically, while Kerala has spent a hefty sum conducting the much-trumpeted Global Investors' Meet (GIM) to lure foreign investors, old-fashioned, investor-hostile tax collection centres like check posts are throwing cold water on these efforts.

For Kuppuswami, a Bangalore-based truck owner-cum-driver who earns a living transporting goods between Bangalore and Kochi, Kerala is the least preferred destination. For every trip he makes to Kerala, Mr.Kuppuswami loses over Rs.1,500 by way of vehicle detention at Walayar. With more than six trips to Kerala he thus suffers a hefty revenue loss every month, he complains.

Of course, the story of Mr. Kuppuswami is just the tip of an iceberg. The check post official records at Walayar reveal that every month more than 2,500 parcel vehicles of different transport companies enter the State via Walayar. And the revenue loss these vehicles suffer, comes to more than a crore of rupees a month.

Many admit it is a sad commentary on the efficiency of a system, which is struggling to improve the volume of tax collection to run the Government.

Kerala has six border check posts, of which the busiest ones like Walayar, Manjeswar, Muthanga and Amaravila earn a revenue collection of over a crore of rupees every day. Ironically, such prominent revenue collection spots in the State do not have adequate infrastructure to ensure smooth operation.

The Walayar check post alone handles around 100 parcel loads coming to the State everyday. This is apart from over 3,000 vehicles passing through this check post carrying truckloads of commodities like marble, rubber et al. Each parcel vehicle, which carries over 150 consignments on an average, takes minimum 45 minutes for scrutiny and clearance, which means an official can clear only 10 or 15 vehicles in a single shift of eight hours.

In fact, several reform measures like the introduction of separate counters for parcel and full loads, stopping of advance submission of Goods Vehicle Reports (GVRs) by proxies and elimination of middlemen, initiated recently by the new Assistant Commissioner have made things easier. However, these measures are far from adequate. "It's high time we initiated modernisation of check posts to lure businessmen to Kerala," says Kerala Chamber of Commence and Industry president Mr.E.S. Jose. "In fact many businessmen are afraid to come to Kerala because of this perennial problems at check posts," reveals Mr.Jose, head of the A to Z Group in Kochi. He feels that privatisation could redeem the check posts from the present crisis.

Many feel it is high time the government computerised its commercial gateways.

Andhra Pradesh, a progressive State that makes rapid stride in its march towards industrialisation, has brought in many reforms to modernise the machinery of tax collection. Gold cards are issued to traders who are meticulous in tax returns and payments. No wonder, this State has changed the dynamics of governance with better money collection with lesser cost. In Gujarat, Government has introduced scanners to X-ray the passing vehicles, installed short circuit TVs to expedite the process of check post clearance.

Today, many progressive governments have assimilated the benefits of technology, implementing norms to improve cost efficiency with better returns. The experts opine that it would be impertinent to say Kerala lacks such brains or visionaries who can think ahead of time. And they suggest solutions too.

Most non-Keralite businessmen in Kochi feel that just opening a few more counters for scrutiny and clearance can accelerate the clearance procedures.

"In fact, the lack of infrastructure at various check posts and harassment is killing the transport industry in the State which is already undergoing a recession," says Cochin Goods Transporting Association president, Sarma.

Mr. Padmanabhan, Assistant Commissioner (Inspection) of Walayar Sales Tax Office claims that many proposals to improve tax collection efficiency at Walayar by modernising infrastructure and introducing scientific approach are on the cards.

However, the government yielding to the public demand, particularly from the fleet operators in Kerala and outside, has recently set up an expert committee headed by Sales Tax Deputy Commisioner Mr.Krishnankutty to study and submit a report for improvisation.

"We are eagerly waiting for the report and its implementation," says Mr.Dileep Singh, a logistic company manager in Kochi.

If things do not change, he dream of Kerala's visionaries to industrialise the State would ever remain a dream.

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