Urban development and municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya’s proposal to slap a tax on all users of filtered water in city, including slum- dwellers, has drawn flak from mayor Subrata Mukherjee. He has asked the state government to announce its decision to tax slum-dwellers before asking the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to implement it. “I don’t want my party, the Trinamul Congress, to be seen as anti-slum-dweller,” asserted Mukherjee on Wednesday.
Minister Bhattacharya, at a meeting with municipal commissioner Debasis Som at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday, had advised him to tax all users of filtered water in the city, including the residents of slums.
“Let the state government announce its decision first and publicise it through a far-reaching campaign. Only then will I consider implementing the tax. Otherwise, the common people will misunderstand my party, which is at the helm of the CMC,” the mayor retorted when Som conveyed to him the minister’s proposal.
More than 1.75 million people live in 5,500 slums distributed across the city and they constitute a major votebank.
Bureaucrats in the minister’s department also pointed out to Som that Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s water supply and drainage wing had been uniformly taxing all users of filtered water and thereby generating for itself an annual surplus of over Rs 400 crore a year — a situation radically opposite to that prevailing in the CMC. In Calcutta, the civic body spends Rs 83 crore annually on water supply, but its revenue-earning from the same head is only Rs 10 crore.
Bhattacharya told Som that civic bodies should generate their own resources to foot the bills for running utility services. All the beneficiaries would have to pay for the services enjoyed, irrespective of social status.
“I am not ready to accept the Brihanmumbai model unless the state government introduces a Mumbai-like tax structure here too,” said Mukherjee. He pointed out that in Mumbai, citizens have to pay water tax and water benefit tax and the rates are calculated on the basis of an annual evaluation of the property.
According to mayor-in-council (water supply) member Sovan Chatterjee, the cost of producing filtered water for supply from the CMC’s Tallah-Palta network is about Rs 1.75 per kilolitre.
Municipal affairs department sources claimed that experts from the Asian Development Bank were shocked to see that filtered water is distributed almost free in the city. An ADB survey found that while a household’s average monthly bill for filtered water was $10 in all other cities, it was nil in Calcutta.