We, the Government
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
The Garhwal Post carried an interesting news-item on 14 November, ’19. It said that labour leaders had opposed the government’s proposal to impose a cess on tourists, promising to give them free transport in Mussoorie. At first sight, it is likely that some of the voters of Mussoorie, the people who form We, the Government, would have welcomed it. But then, when the initial euphoria had worn away, we looked at the proposal more carefully. We phoned friends and informants, read books, pierced the concept on the skewer of logic and turned it, very slowly, over the glowing brazier of analysis. This is what emerged. To start with, it is unwise to impose this levy on tourists as a cess. A cess is charged for a specific purpose over and above a tax. When that purpose has been fulfilled, the cess must cease. In other words, when the state exercises its right to impose a cess it also acquires the burden of performing the obligatory duty. Its duty is to provide free transport to everyone who has paid that cess. It is like the price you pay for a movie ticket. It entitles you to a seat to view a particular movie at a particular time. Once that theatre sells that ticket to you, that seat is yours for the specified show. The owners of the movie hall cannot force you to share that seat with any other person. Now apply that logic to the Mussoorie Tourist Transport Cess. Every individual in a family who has paid that cess has the right to demand a separate transport every time he or she wants to move around Mussoorie! Can that legally-enforceable demand be met? Obviously not! Visitors to our hill-station are already harassed by the long traffic jams that plague the narrow roads of our little town. Do our netas and babus want to multiply this problem? Now let’s look at another side of the problem. We have been told that the state will provide golf-carts. That seemed to be another great idea at first. Then we recalled an experience we had. Some time ago we stayed in a beautiful spa built in the grounds of an old palace in the Himalayas. When guests wanted to move around the facility they dialled the Concierge and a golf cart appeared at their door. And away they went till they reached a rising slope in the road. Then… crawl-crawl … cough-splutter! … shudder..! Stop!. Driver apologises “Very sorry. The battery charge seems to be low!” We trudge up the slope. Complain to the Duty Manager. “The power supply is a bit erratic in the Himalayas. I am really very sorry!” So were we. So, is our government prepared to face a constant barrage of litigation for unfulfilled legal obligations? And when will they install enough charging points for these battery-run golf carts? And, if they are run on petro-chemicals, will Mussoorie have enough fuel outlets? And do we really want to add to our petro-chemical emissions until our clean Himalayan air replicates the foul gas chamber toxicity of the National Capital Region? In fact, are all these efforts necessary? Once upon a-not-so-distant time, Mussoorie had five-men and four-men powered, rickshaws, four men carried dandies, and single-men carried kandhis for kids. They handled all but the steepest slopes. Then came the cycle-rickshaw order. The number of people employed in transportation fell. Now we are threatened by the looming spectre of the golf-cart whammy. What is the logic of shutting down traditional, honest, labour-intensive activities on the one hand and then giving lip-service to encouraging, so-called, start-ups? Do we really want to close a high-employment door to open job-uncertain windows? We request all our well-meaning netas to tackle the real problems of water supply and distribution, human waste disposal, protection against marauding monkeys, unbridled over-building in spite of the MDDA (or because of it, according to a very vocal section of our civic society) and the grossly uncontrolled in-flow of pollution-emitting vehicular traffic into Mussoorie. So, we ask our beloved politicians, is it so important to milk tourists by taxing them, or cessing them? Is it no longer necessary to give them a fair deal?