With the intention of getting into slightly more serious astrophotography, I recently obtained the Celestron CG-5 ASGT Advanced GoTo Mount, which is a computerized tripod mount that enables telescopes (and cameras) to track objects in the night sky as they move around the Pole Star.
Shipping a heavy mount into India can be a complicated and expensive affair, and though I’d had my eye on this mount for a few years, it took me a while to take the plunge. As a student I’m on a tight budget, so I first tried to get a used Celestron CG-5 off various astronomy forums (fora?) and classifieds. That didn’t work out so well, mostly because of shipping considerations. Not many amateur astronomers were willing to ship such a heavy item to India, to my disappointment.
Over the years, the price of the CG5 ASGT dropped from the ~$900 range to ~$550, and I decided it was time to import a new mount. To avoid Customs hassles and damage issues, I decided to use EBay India’s Global Easy Buy service. Though it was a slightly more expensive way to get the mount, I preferred Ebay.in’s service due to the convenience and security. If you’re taking this route, Ebay often has free shipping or other offers that are worth watching out for. For more ‘normal’ items that are not too fragile, expensive or heavy, I usually try to save and just use the regular postal service (EMS) and deal with Customs myself (but that’s another blogpost altogether!).
I moved to Kolkata, West Bengal, earlier this year. The state of West Bengal is notoriously backward and unfriendly towards e-commerce, and required me to personally visit a Sales Tax office (I visited the one at Beliaghata Road) to get a stamped Form 50a, which I had to send onwards to the seller (in this case eBay’s shipping vendor, ICC World). As a side-note, in over 80 eBay transactions from all over India and the world, this was the first time a State sought to extort money from me after the Centre had charged customs. It’s no wonder that the once glorious West Bengal is going to the dogs. Anyway, I digress.
The procedure at the sales tax office is that one goes up to the sixth floor, to the ‘central’ section and asks for a ‘waybill’ for an ‘unregistered dealer’, even though one is not a dealer. You fill up the form and submit it to the clerk, who passes it up to an official to assess tax from a bulky book (‘schedule’) issued to them. This takes anywhere between a few minutes to a day, after which you get a ‘challan’ to pay the tax. Step down to the SBI (State Bank of India) branch on the ground floor and pay in the amount demanded, following which you will get a Waybill, in triplicate. One copy is to be sent to the courier.
Since a computerized telescope mount is not explicitly mentioned in the West Bengal VAT Schedule, it is charged tax at 13.5% on the total amount (Price + Customs + Shipping). This came out to a whopping 7000 odd Rupees. In addition, to ostensibly avoid under-invoicing, the commercial taxes office routinely charges tax on 1.5 times the invoice amount, which is plain Highway Robbery. I can think of no other term for this triple taxation of personal goods. The entire affair is just an evolved version of what travellers did in Sherwood forest.
I finally decided to request the seller to just ship to my home in Mumbai instead. Gopal Krishna Gokhale once said, “what Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow”. Alas, those days are long past.