Chopper tax on Vaishno Devi pilgrims an insult to religious sentiments: JKPCC

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Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu’s refusal to withdraw chopper tax on pilgrims visiting the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine has stirred a hornet’s nest in Jammu.

The Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) today lashed out at the government for not withdrawing the chopper tax and termed it as “an insult to the religious sentiments of people.”Reacting to Drabu’s statement, whereby he has justified the imposition of the service tax on Vaishno Devi pilgrims, a JKPCC spokesman today said it reflected “a total insensitive approach of the present dispensation towards the religious sentiments of the people and a slap on the face of the BJP which had announced that the same shall be withdrawn.

He said the failure of the BJP to roll back the chopper tax exposes its double standards and total surrender for the sake of power. It is ironical that the party which always cried hoarse over the issues of religious sentiments has led to imposition of pilgrims tax.On the contrary, the previous government, in which the Congress was a coalition partner, amended the Panchayati Raj Act and deleted Sub Clause (iv) of Clause (1) of Section 15 of the Act, which had empowered the panchayats to impose the pilgrims tax, the JKPCC spokesman said. “This was done to respect the religious sentiments of the public.”Questioning the logic of the government behind the imposition of the tax on the helicopter services that only the rich use, the JKPCC spokesman said: “It is not the question of who can pay for it. These steps amount to hurting the religious sentiments of the people, causing resentment over the indifferent treatment.”“Moreover, the facility is not availed by the rich only but also by the aged, ailing, physically challenged and others who cannot trek to the shrine but want to seek the blessings of Mata Vaishno Devi and other such shrines,” the party spokesman said.At a press conference here on Friday, the Finance Minister said the tax had been imposed on all commercial chopper services, saying the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board was charging landing charges from the helicopter operators, which was borne by the pilgrims.Drabu refused to withdraw 12.5 per cent service tax on Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims travelling to the shrine by choppers.

His move has led to widespread protests in Jammu and embarrassed the BJP, coalition partner in the government.The Finance Minister refused to acknowledge that the shrine board was a statutory board which existed because of the constitutional provisions where the government had no jurisdiction and could not interfere in its affairs.The government has to consult and seek board’s consent before taking any decision with regard to the services operating under the board.

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