Agriculture: Cardamom farmers in the south were taken by surprise this year when revenue and customs officials began visiting them to levy taxes on their produce harvested last year and the year before.

Farmers had not expected that they would be liable for tax payments for their only source of income. Moreover it was done without prior information.

Although the farmers were asked to fill up forms with details of their production and income towards the end of last year, farmers were not told it was for tax purposes.

So far collection of cardamom taxes has been completed in Chudzom (Dovan) gewog, one of the highest cardamom growing gewogs in Sarpang.

Bal Bahadur Mongar from Kharkhola paid Nu 99,500 for the 25 mon (one mon equals to 40kg) of cardamom he harvested. He sold the produce, harvested in 2015, for Nu 1,375 a kilogramme.

The 37-year-old farmer said he fails to understand how cardamom has become taxable this year as many other farmers have been cultivating the spice and making an income off it for several years. “As long as it is fairly levied on everyone, we’ve no problem in paying taxes,” he said.

Farmers claimed that those who had prior information that they would be taxed, did not disclose their actual income or total quantity produced when they filled in the forms.

Another farmer, Dawa Tshering Tamang, 63, paid Nu 22,000 as income tax this year. He produced nine mon of cardamom in 2015 and he was able to sell only five mon last year. He said that fetched him Nu 200,000.

The father of 12 said that levying tax on the little income they earn from a year’s manual work is discouraging. “It may be the law but the government should consider the expenditure incurred in producing the cash crop.”

Another farmer, Bal Kumar Phuyel, paid Nu 7,500 for the five mon of cardamom he harvested in 2016.

He said that it has just been a few years since people began re-cultivating cardamom. He said the crop is the only source of an income after several years. “We’ve no option but to pay when it’s the law,” he said.

Meanwhile, the joint collector of the regional revenue and customs office in Gelephu, Dorji Wangchuck, said that the collection of cardamom income tax was based on the existing Income Tax Act 2001.

So far, more than 50 cardamom farmers have been taxed in Chudzom gewog.

He said that although the Income Tax Act came into effect since 2002, farmers failed to come forward to declare their produce. “Moreover, it has just been few years since farmers began growing cardamom in abundance, so the regional office went to individual farmers to collect tax.”

Dorji Wangchuk also said cardamom tax will not only be levied on farmers of Chudzom gewog or Sarpang dzongkhag but on all cardamom growers across the country. “Cash crop income tax from farmers was not collected before because of lack of information about who grew what and its quantity.”

Meanwhile, farmers are waiting for the cardamom price to increase before they sell their 2016 produce. The current price has fallen to as low as Nu 30,000 per mon.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang