KARACHI: The government seems to be on a ‘tax collection spree’ ahead of Eidul Azha as it has recently enhanced the fees on dry animals at the market level after raising the multiple taxes being collected under heads such as ‘entry’, ‘health clearance’ and ‘keeping of milching animals’ fees from traders, it emerged on Thursday.
Speaking to Dawn, cattle traders voiced their concern over the government attitude and said that those tactics had pushed traders into a serious financial crisis that would eventually hit consumers and cause an increase in animal prices and animal products.
“It’s regrettable that instead of listening to our grievances against the enhanced fees at city’s entry points and markets, the government has enhanced the fee on dry animals as well,” said Shakir Umer Gujjar, representing the Dairy and Cattle Farmers’ Association, adding that the market for dry animals was being held five times a week at Cattle Colony in Landhi.
Fee being collected at city’s three entry points raised by 200 per cent
The fee on dry animals — animals that are no longer producing milk — had been raised from Rs40 and Rs60 to Rs100, he added.
According to traders, the ‘health clearance’ fee being collected at city’s three entry points has been raised from Rs50 to Rs150 whereas the fee on keeping milching animals has been increased from Rs150 to Rs250.
A recent visit to one of the fee collection checkpoints located off the Superhighway in Nooriabad, the two others located on Hub River Road and National Highway, showed that the staff of a private contractor hired by District Council Karachi (DCK) was running the post.
The contractor, sources said, was awarded the contract for fee collection at three entry points through a bid of Rs75,411,000.
‘Animals not checked’
The checkpoint at Nooriabad had no mechanism to ensure that only infection-free animals were brought to the city. Those who refused to pay fees were chased and forced to pay.
“Neither they have inspected our animals nor asked any question about their health,” said a trader after getting his animals cleared at the Nooriabad checkpoint.
The staff manning the place included two young men, who claimed that they were veterinary surgeons. “We inspect all animals and provide medicines if required,” said one Dr Adnan, adding that vets were present at the checkpoint round-the-clock.
Animals, they said, were ‘inspected’ inside the vehicles and at times they were sprayed with insecticides “to keep them safe from ticks”.
“Yes, you are right that ideally there should be a quarantine here for animal inspection,” one of them said.
When asked to verify their claims of treating animals, they did not have any record to show.
It was not hard to see that the contractor’s employees were fleecing traders and making money in the name of ‘health clearance fee’. Besides, such practices, according to experts, are against the standard protocol for animal inspection.
‘Health fee or extortion’
“It’s nothing but a drama. Animals are inspected for health purposes at the place of their housing/ farm and not during transportation when they are already under stress,” said Dr Alamdar Hussain, former registrar of the Pakistan Veterinary Medical Council and now running his own non-governmental organisation for livestock management.
According to him, the livestock department of the provincial government should come forward and help cattle traders, especially at the time of Eid.
“The Sindh government should update its livestock regulations and implement them. Ideally, traders coming from other parts of the country should be carrying vaccination cards that should be checked here. Second, animal hygiene should be ensured at the farm level to prevent risk of Congo virus infection,” he said.
When contacted, Masroor Memon, the DCK chief officer, justified collection of taxes and said that those taxes were collected by contractors every year.
“I can’t comment on the health aspect as I am not a vet,” he replied when questioned about the ‘health fee’.
Fight over taxes
Once cleared at the entry points, traders head to various parts of the city, including Cattle Colony in Landhi, and Malir’s goat market or the livestock market set up every year off the Superhighway.
Those who opt for city’s regular cattle markets are asked to pay an entry fee of Rs120 and Rs250 per animal. Earlier, the fee rate was Rs30 and Rs120, respectively.
It was ironic to see that these cattle markets housing hundreds and thousands of animals, their adjoining residential areas and roads remain in a shambles despite the fact that this exercise of tax collection had been in vogue for many years.
Traders complained that the government had never demonstrated any interest in improving road conditions, sanitation in their areas or animal hygiene and welfare conditions at cattle markets.
“You can see that this place is too congested and filthy. It’s hard to attract buyers here, though we offer animals at cheaper rates than the market set up annually off the Superhighway,” said a trader at Cattle Colony, the city’s largest cattle market located in Landhi.
When asked about tax collection, the director for taxation, District Municipal Corporation Malir, Noor Mohammad Baloch, said the DMC had taken over that job from the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).
“We auctioned three cattle markets, the one in Malir and two in Cattle Colony. But the KMC got a stay order against it and later started collecting its own fee and committed contempt of court three to four times,” he said, adding that the auction was suspended because of litigation.
The court had passed an interim order in DMC Malir’s favour and the department started collecting entry fee, he added.
Mr Baloch criticised the KMC and said that it “destroyed the DMC’s revenue collection efforts” and said that the infighting between government departments had sent a wrong message to traders. About the justification for levying the fee, he said that it had been collected for many years under the law.
“We are providing them all services, including water, sanitation and electricity at the markets. The taxes are collected under the law and we are following it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Municipal Commissioner Dr Syed Saif-ur-Rehman has directed the municipality’s veterinary department to inspect animals and issue health certificates for sacrificial animals.
Asked how that job would be done as the DCK was already issuing the so-called ‘health clearance’ slips at the city’s entry points, he said: “Under the Sindh Local Governance Ordinance 2013, the KMC is authorised to inspect slaughtering animals and abattoirs. The department would set up its separate camps at animal markets and help traders free of cost.”
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2018