Calcutta High Court on Tuesday put a stop to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s tactics of disconnecting waterlines to extract property-tax arrears.
The order, which has dubbed the practice “ultra vires of the Constitution”, has put not only the Trinamul Congress in a spot — as it runs the CMC show — but also the Left Front government, as it had enacted the amendment to the CMC Act, which the court overruled.
The Trinamul-run board and the Left Front-run state government stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the high court, arguing for the continuance of the law. Both have now decided to appeal against the verdict, passed by Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya on Tuesday, at a division bench of the same court.
“I have already asked my lawyers to move the division bench,” mayor Subrata Mukherjee said after devising an alternative, three-pronged route to pressure recalcitrant tax-payers, in the wake of the high court-imposed restriction.
The state government-enacted amendment allowed civic bodies to disconnect water supply to buildings with property tax arrears within 72 hours if the dues were outstanding for more than a year, CMC legal expert Ashok Das Adhikari said.
The court, however, found in the legislation a source of “unbridled power for the municipal commissioner… which went against the interest of common tax-payers”. Property tax — or the dues from it — had no relation with the supply of water, the court felt, stating categorically that the CMC did not have any right to disconnect waterlines to realise tax arrears.
Snubbed by the court, the CMC bosses got cracking. A blueprint to get around the court curb was prepared on Tuesday itself. Its salient features are:
nLicences for deep tubewells will not be renewed if property tax is outstanding
nThe CMC will disconnect supply in case of leaking waterlines and owners of the affected buildings will have to furnish tax-clearance documents if they want the supply restored
nThe CMC will not renew trade licences for buildings used for commercial purposes if tax is due
There was, however, a backing-down as well. The revenue department, which drew up a fresh list of 20 premises for punitive measures, did not pass it on to the water supply department for further action.
Tuesday’s verdict followed a joint petition by Kerbs CIE Limited and three other firms having city-based offices. All of them were served notices, threatening them with water-less days if they did not pay their property-tax dues within a specified period.
The CMC, since the beginning of this financial year, had issued random notices to many tax-defaulters. In some cases, people who had cleared their water-tax dues but did not pay their property tax, too, were made to go without water from the CMC lines.
“There are still seven cases pending with the division bench, presided over by Justice S. Banerjee, and Tuesday’s judgment will not, in any way, affect the hearing of those cases,” said additional government pleader Debasish Kar Gupta, who represented the state government.