Union of India is divided into 28 states and 7 Union territories.
I deliberately omitted the word ‘administratively’, in describing this division!! If it is an administrative division, then there shouldn’t be so much tensions between the states, and so much confusion in the way our taxation and governance works.
Couple of weeks back Karnataka High Court ruled it Un-constitutional to impose an Entry Tax on Vehicles bought outside of Karnataka, and ordered a refund of taxes collected. The High court observed that “The object of our Constitution makers was free movement and exchange of goods throughout India…”
Is it indeed the case that we have Free movement and exchange within India?
1. Free movement of people.
On July 28th, I landed up in Delhi Airport needing to go to Ghaziabad. When I came to the Pre-Paid counter, a board saying taxi’s won’t go to Ghaziabad and Noida. I enquired with the ITDC counter there and they didn’t have any taxi’s. The helpful lady at the counter told me I won’t get a direct taxi to Ghaziabad, and adviced me to take a taxi till Anand-Vihar and then cross over to the ‘other side’ of the road and take another taxi or Auto rikshaw.
I told her I am just trying to get to a place about 40km from the Delhi Airport, not to Pakistan, she smiled and said, there aren’t any alternative way, unless I have done prior transport arrangement!! In Bangalore, I regularly commute 40km from my House to airport, without any impediment. I know of people who do 60km from Airport with the regular airport taxi. The only reason why the taxi’s can’t go to Delhi-NCR destinations, is becuase they are in another state. You see Delhi state only has about 30km radius, locations beyond that belongs to various other states.
So there I was, within India, getting down at Anand Vihar, crossing over the road as directed by the helpful cab driver – carrying my two bags and then getting on to an Auto on the otherside of the highway to get to my destination!!!! Luckily I didn’t need a passport to get to the other side of the road in to Uttar Pradesh – Perhaps that’s what our governments mean by being “FREE”.
Most of the states have Motor vehicle acts, that permit the use of a out of station vehicle within a state for up to a month, beyond which you are expected to pay taxes (road tax, entry tax etc.) Beyond one year you are expected to register the vehicle locally! Did you say number portability in Mobile phones, how about portability in a technology that is a century old? How about being able to move location without bothering about Police Harassment? If I haven’t stolen a car, and have paid tax in one state, I shouldn’t be harassed for the lack of co-ordination between the govt’s of respective states in Sharing that tax revenue.
Neither does it make any sense for cities, that have state borders in close proximity (say within 50km) , not to have an arrangement with neighboring states to facilitate free movement of goods and people between those destination. But, that’s how it is between Bangalore and Hosur for example. Not many taxi’s will be able to take you to Hosur from Bangalore, unless you made a prior arrangement! This is plain ridiculous.
2. Free Movement of Goods.
Most goods carriers and public transports have to pay multi-state taxes, instead of any one state. They have to bribe their way at checkposts as those are ‘harassment posts’, even if you are entirely legit. There are innumerable checkposts that dot our highways all over the place, which are a major ‘revenue source’ for most of our ministers and bureaucrats. They not only cause a nuisance on the highways by narrowing our highways for non-goods vehicles, while waiting for a stamp and a signature by the overlord of that check post, they also slowdown the movement of goods within the country.
Getting goods bought in one state to another is another major story. Have you ever tried to transfer a laptop, legally bought in a city to your branch office in another city through a courier service? If not – here is a clue. It isn’t a straight forward process. Your transporter will need a way bill for taking it, and you’ll need to provide the ST registration for the office with proof of it being a branch office to do that. In case you don’t have it, it is tough luck – Your transporter will be harassed for carrying a laptop for which a state tax isn’t paid!! So, only shady operators will accept laptops, not the reputed courriers.
Again – Did anyone say we are a FREE COUNTRY???
3. Idea of ONE INDIA
There is currently a huge ruckus going on about the unveiling of a statue in Bangalore of Saint Poet Thiruvalluvar. He happened to be a Tamil poet, and for more than a decade now people have been objecting that statue – the reason – He is a Tamilian (Though he was an Great Indian).
The bargain reached – Tamilnadu will have to unveil a statue of Sarvajna (A Kannada saint poet). How is that for a reciprocal, confidence building measure. I thought we needed such meaningless maneuvers only with Pakistan. Why can’t a bunch of Indians have the liberty to unveil a statue in a place of their choice, assuming they aren’t violating any law??
Same goes for the Anti South Indian or Anti North Indian violence in Mumbai. some very prominent citizens support the notion of job reservation for localites. But, that whole premise is agaisnt the notion of Free India, and is unconstitutional. Who is to say who is a mumbaikar? Only a person speaking Marati?
This country is truly divided into some 2 dozen states, that aren’t United at all. Perhaps, having understood this, our constitution makers justly didn’t call it the “United States of India”.