Those who missed out on the property tax waiver scheme offered by Kolkata Municipal Corporation in February 2012, needn’t lose heart. Desperate to win citizen’s favour before the civic polls, the Trinamool Congress-run KMC board is all set to offer another waiver to the property tax defaulters.

According to KMC assessment department sources, the civic authorities have drafted a proposal for waiving 50% interest on outstanding property tax. The proposal has been sent to the state municipal affairs department for approval. Once approved, the proposal, in the form of a bill, will be placed in the winter session of the state assembly.

However, this time, KMC may not call interest exemption a ‘waiver’.

Technically, a waiver proposal needs to have an approval from the governor. In 2012, former governor K R Narayanan had repeatedly questioned the efficacy of such a waiver plan.

Most of the major defaulters did not express any interest in the scheme offered by the Trinamool Congress board in 2004.

Mayor Sovan Chatterjee admitted that a proposal for waiving 50% interest on outstanding property had been drafted and sent to the state for necessary approval. “Once it is passed in the assembly, we will notify the same without further delay,” Chatterjee told TOI.

The objective of offering the waiver in 2012 was to mop up revenue for funding the city’s infrastructure projects. This time the aim to is to please the citizens before the polls, especially at a time when Trinamool leaders, including party chief and CM Mamata Banerjee, have been perturbed by the rising strength of BJP in Kolkata.

In consultation with the party high command, the mayor plans to offer major sops to Kolkatans.

If waiving building sanction fees for minor constructions aimed at the city’s middle class happens to be the party’s calculated move to woo voters, giving a flat 50% waiver on outstanding property tax could be the party’s trump card for the KMC polls scheduled next May.

However, a section of the KMC assessment department officials are upset with the proposal.

A senior KMC assessment department official reasoned that at a time when the civic body, under instructions from municipal commissioner Khalil Ahmed, had been taking on the major defaulters and asking them to pay up or face drastic action according to KMC rules, the new proposal could become a deterrent.

“We have been collecting huge revenue from the defaulters after issuing distress notices, which warn the defaulters of a civic action to attach their properties. Now the new proposal will not only encourage the defaulters to stop making payments, we will also lose money worth hundreds of crores as the interest will be waived by 50%,” said a KMC official.

The urge to teach habitual defaulters a lesson stems from the all too glaring statistics that, of 3.5 lakh assesses, 301 defaulters alone owe KMC Rs 900 crore of the Rs 2,600 crore outstanding property tax.

The KMC assessment record book shows that a majority of tax defaulters in Kolkata wait for waivers to dodge interests on the principal sum they owe.

Records show that the civic body mopped up Rs 157 crore from the 2001 waiver scheme.

When the waiver offer was repeated in 2004, KMC collected around Rs 250 crore as many other major defaulters, who had been silent during the first waiver, applied for the second.

The Trinamool Congress-run civic board again mopped up Rs 250 crore from the waiver scheme in 2012.

Rupa Bagchi, the opposition leader in KMC, came down heavily on the Trinamool Congress-run civic board on the ground that the new proposal would make the civic body bankrupt.

Bagchi also felt that the new proposal will help only some big time business houses, which may fund Trinamool Congress in the forthcoming civic elections.

Source: The Times of India, Kolkata

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