The ‘tax-extortion’ argument Manipur at the receiving end

To the NSCN (IM), the money collected from goods and vehicles that pass through Nagaland on the Imphal-Dimapur National Highway is ‘legitimate’ while to the Government of India it is nothing short of extortion.  Cast the net wider and this whole business of ‘extortion’ or ‘taxes’ envelops every transactions, not only in Nagaland, but even in the Naga dominated districts of Manipur. The same may be the case in areas which are dominated by the Naga tribes in the States of Arunachal Pradesh and even Assam. So no Government employee in the Naga dominated districts of Manipur get to enjoy their full salary as money is always ‘deducted at the source’ with the Government of India dubbing such deduction as extortion but the NSCN (IM) sticking to its gun that the money thus collected are legitimate taxes. A sort of two Governments running the show or the existence of a parallel Government. New Delhi has not officially recognised the presence of a ‘parallel’ Government, but this did not stop former Governor of Nagaland and Interlocutor to the peace talk, RN Ravi from speaking out his mind and calling such ‘collection‘ as extortion ! Not clear whether such an admission stemmed from the sharp differences between him and the NSCN (IM) on the interpretation of the Framework Agreement of August 3, 2015, or from his unbiased observation. What however is clear is that Nagaland has earned the dubious distinction of being the State with the highest cases of ‘extortion’ and this should say something significant. As noted earlier, it is not only Nagaland, but even Naga dominated districts in the State of Manipur, where no Government employee get to enjoy her full salary as a good percentage of the pay is always deducted at the source. A clear indication that the NSCN (IM) has its men at places where it matters and this is saying something very significant. The Government at Delhi may or may not know this, but the fact is, this is something happening right under their nose. Ask any truck or inter-State bus owner and driver in Manipur and one will get a fair idea of how much money is paid regularly to the said outfit to ensure that the vehicle is not waylaid or ‘made to disappear’ just because it does not have the paper/slip to show that it has paid the annual fees of plying on the Imphal-Dimapur route. With the NSCN (IM) still maintaining that the money thus collected cannot be equated with extortion, but are legitimate taxes collected and the Government calling it extortion, it was not surprising to see the Naga Hoho striking a balancing act and instead dubbing the money thus collected, ‘Loyalty Tax’.
A tax that bleeds the people dry is the one line answer one would get from the people of Manipur. The reason for such an uncharitable remark can be better understood in the backdrop of the reality. A bag of cement say costing Rs 400 or a little more in Guwahati invariably costs nearly or a little over Rs 600 here at Imphal. Same is the case with floor tiles, marbles, faucets, wash basins, and anything needed to build a house ! The reason is simple enough to understand. With the ‘taxes’ or extortion being collected on the Imphal-Dimapur route, the burden of meeting the ‘unexplained’ cuts along the said route is invariably passed on to the consumers. This is the reality here. It is not only building materials but a host of other goods which come from outside the State. Another example that may be cited here is the cost of bringing out the day’s paper. With all raw materials ranging from the ink to the newsprint being brought in by road, it becomes extremely difficult to keep the selling price low. Not for nothing is it said that in a place like Dimapur it would not be impossible to put the selling price of a newspaper at Rs 3 per copy. The arithmetic here should be easy to understand. Bringing in the raw material by road invariably means giving the ‘extortion’ sum demanded or the ‘tax’ levied at different check posts. This is apart from the annual ‘tax’ that has to be paid ! So while to the Naga Hoho the money thus collected may be ‘Loyalty Tax’ to the people of Manipur it is nothing short of stretching their pocket. This is the reality of the ‘tax-extortion’ argument.