The Bharatiya Janata Party—an ally of ruling Peoples Democratic Party—Wednesday asked Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu "not to compare tourism with pilgrimage to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi shrine."
The party asked the PDP-led government to roll back its decision on charging tax on commercial helicopter service in the State.
Reflecting tension between the alliance partners, BJP's Chief Spokesman Sunil Sethi said the party does not endorse the justification given by Finance Minister over imposition of tax on helicopter services.
"BJP neither endorses nor accepts the 12.5% service tax on helicopter tickets to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi," Sethi told reporters here.
He warned the Finance Minister against "comparing tourism with the religious pilgrimage."
"Finance Minister is comparing leisure tourism or Cable Car with Shri Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrimage which is not acceptable. This will never be accepted as Vaishno Devi pilgrimage involves religious sentiments of people," he said.
Drabu had Tuesday said the service tax is also being charged on ropeways and cable car services, which carry tourists and pilgrims to not only tourist resorts but also to some revered shrines in Kashmir. Drabu had also charged "some parties" of "trying to communalize the decision of imposing service tax on chopper service."
Sethi said BJP's senior leaders have already "registered a strong protest" with PDP and demanded immediate rollback of the service tax decision. He advised the government "not to make it a prestige issue as it may flare up communal tension in the state."
He asked the Government to be "cautious while taking decisions on issues where religious sentiments of people are involved."
"If my party opposes tax on helicopter services to holy cave of Mata Vaishno Devi and other religious places of Hindus, it will also oppose any such decision which hurts the sentiments of people of other faiths," Sethi said, asking the government to "immediately revoke the decision to prevent any communal tension in the state."
DRABU DEFENDS MOVE
Defending the decision of imposition of 12.5 percent Service Tax on commercial helicopter services, news agency JKNI quoted Drabu as saying: "The helicopter ticket is originally prized at Rs 700 approximately but the Shrine board authorities charge Rs 300 landing charges per ticket. If this is not categorized as 'Jazia', why is 12.5 percent service tax labeled as 'Jazia'."
Drbau, the news agency said, advised the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to reduce the landing fee by Rs 150 "and the tax imposed by the state government would be automatically abolished and the pilgrim would be able to buy the ticket at the same price."