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Two trees that bother Big B

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Amitabh Bachchan
It is never easy being a celebrity - that too when you have achieved iconic status. Amitabh Bachchan has found himself at the receiving end of political and social pressure due to various reasons. The latest development involves the Uttar Pradesh bureaucracy's notices on two trees - peepul and date palm - on the land (in Barabanki) where he's building a school for girls.

Excerpts from an interview with the Big B:

What exactly is the nature of the notices - what is their problem if the trees exist?
When one purchases land, there is stamp duty that has to be paid. Stamp duty is a count by the registrar, which is based on the declaration filed by the purchaser. This in turn is based on the details on the map of the land.

The number of trees on the land is mentioned. We declared all the details before the revenue officers and the registrar. It is the duty of the registrar to declare and accept the stamp duty as per the declaration. If the registrar erred or failed somewhere in counting of the stamp duty, this is a lapse on his part. According to our representation there are no trees on the land. We went according to the provisions of law and by what the official maps contained.

Assuming that since the maps were configured 15 years ago and that there could be a growth of trees in 15 years (though the formal document does not mention anything) we paid an extra amount to cover any extraneous amount that may be calculated by the registrar.

How much did you pay?
We paid Rs 8,40,000 which was Rs 40,000 more than the required amount. The tehsildar issued a notice (which we did not receive) alleging that we had evaded stamp duty to the tune of Rs 695. He has stated that the evasion is for one peepal tree and one khajur tree.

The matter was listed on March 31, 2008 and has been postponed to May 5, 2008. My lawyers have requested my representative to deposit twice the amount of the alleged evasion, under protest. At the inauguration, I could not see any trees there. It is barren land away and distant from any common facilities.

Is this the first time such notices were sent by the government?
No. There have been several other occasions.

Do you feel frustrated trying to work it out with the authorities all the time?
Notices are obviously sent after due consideration, following certain legal and constitutional formalities. The bureaucracy is not foolish or incorrect. Government procedures are to be respected and followed. If the procedures are such that it involves a great amount of red tape, then yes, sometimes they pose a frustration.

But that's government procedure stipulated through the law of the land; it has to be followed. It can make the system look good and could also perhaps become a healthy tool for political victimisation.

The refrain used by the authorities 'Amitabh Bachchan has cheated the UP government' was quite unnecessary. If I am paying Rs 8 lakh for a property, it is ridiculous that an alleged non payment of Rs 695, should fall in the category of 'cheating'!

When do you officially plan to launch the school?
The work is yet to begin. If there are government notices flying around it is highly unlikely that the system would allow you to pursue any activity. Once the legalities are settled, we shall begin the construction work.

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