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Power-cut clout for rent flout

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) does not have the right to turn off taps to extract property-tax dues from residential buildings; but it can switch off power supply to New Market shops if they fail to clear their rent arrears.

Calcutta High Court on Thursday made this clear, upholding the CMC’s right to plunge New Market traders into darkness unless they pay up stall rents at the revised rates, within seven days.

Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya — who, on September 24, held that the CMC had no right to disconnect waterlines in buildings for non-payment of property tax — observed that the civic authorities could stop power supply to the shops and establishments at S.S. Hogg Market (New Market) for their failure to cough up rent.

Upholding the action of the CMC in serving notices of disconnection of power supply to defaulting members of the S.S. Hogg Market Shopkeepers Welfare Association, the judge further observed that the civic authorities had the right to close down the shops if the rent was not paid within the stipulated time.

Welcoming the decision, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said on Thursday that stall-owners in 23 civic markets owed the CMC no less than Rs 2 crore as outstanding rent. He pointed out that the maximum stall charge for the 5,000-odd shopkeepers in New Market was “less than 20 paise per square foot”, per day.

“How can the traders be allowed to earn their profits without paying their dues while the CMC spends Rs 4 crore every year to preserve their business interests'” demanded Mukherjee.

Pradip Chakravorty, secretary of the S.S. Hogg Market Shopkeepers’ Welfare Association, was not available for comment. Justice Bhattacharya’s judgment is significant as the verdict could set a precedent for all 23 markets controlled by the civic authorities. In the last financial year, the civic authorities had decided to revise the arbitrary rent structure in all 23 markets and fix it at 15 paise per sq ft per day from April 2002.

On June 13, the S.S. Hogg Market Shopkeepers’ and Owners’ Association had filed a writ before Justice Bhattacharya and obtained an interim order staying the notification of the CMC demanding enhanced rent from stall owners. Shop-owners of the 23 markets had even called a 48-hour trade bandh to protest the “unfair decision” of the civic authorities.

Earlier this month, the civic authorities served fresh notices on the stall-owners, asking them to pay their dues within three days or face switching-off of power supply. The shop-owners of New Market then filed a fresh petition before Calcutta High Court, challenging the validity of the notices slapped on them by the civic authorities.

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