Cinema hall owners in West Bengal have urged the state government to waive their taxes and provide financial assistance and interest-free loans to them in view of the closure of the movie screens due to the lockdown. The Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA), Exhibitors' Section, in a recent letter to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has urged the state government to reimburse at least 50 per cent of the salaries paid by the cinema hall owners to their employees during the lockdown period.
The association has also sought interest-free loans of Rs 2 lakh per cinema hall after reopening of the establishments so that the owners can pay their backlogs and return to business, the letter, made available to the media on Wednesday, said.
The body said it would take at least 18 months for the sector to return anywhere close to normalcy after the lockdown is lifted.
It urged the state government to waive GST, show tax, local entertainment tax, property tax and other municipal taxes for at least two years from the date of closure of the cinema halls.
The association sought nominal imposition of service tax so that cinema hall owners can upgrade the facilities.
"The effects of COVID-19 are nil revenue with salaries, taxes, rent payments, electricity bills all accruing against zero revenue. Cinemas were the first to shut down and maybe one of the last to be allowed to operate post-lockdown," the letter said.
It pointed out that over 500 single screens in West Bengal have downed their shutters over the last two decades due to a gradual decline in audience numbers and lack of funding to upgrade the facilities.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has struck the final blow to the sector," the association said.
EIMPA Exhibitors' Section Chairman Ratan Saha told PTI on Wednesday, "If there is no incentive in the post-lockdown scenario for single screens and regional multiplexes, the owners, who will have to reduce seating capacity by 60-70 per cent to maintain social distancing, will have to close down the facilities and use the properties for other purposes."
The association boasts of membership of owners of more than 200 cinema halls in the state.