Cooch Behar, Oct. 25: Fed up with government offices owing Rs 1.5 crore in municipal taxes, the local civic body today “raided” a pond of the state fisheries department and tried to fish to recover its lost money.
As Cooch Behar municipality chairman Biren Kundu stood on the edge of the pond and asked the fishermen he hired to cast the net, the district fisheries officer came running, offering apologies and pledges to pay the tax.
Members of a fisherman’s co-operative, which leased the pond from the fisheries department, joined in, urging the chairman to “catch the big fish in the fisheries department, but not our fish in the pond”.
Kundu relented, but not before threatening to fish the entire pond and sell the catch in the market if the department failed to pay up by the end of November.
“We mean what we said. You have just one month, no more, no less,” the chairman of the Congress-controlled municipality thundered.
The municipality, clearly in the red, launched its “tax collection” drive in the district headquarters of Cooch Behar yesterday, carrying out raids on the houses of the “private” defaulters, who owe Rs 30 lakh as against the government’s Rs 1.5 crore.
Kundu said the municipality was empowered by the Bengal Municipality Act of 1993 to conduct raids on the premises of defaulters and seize their household goods and properties. “There is nothing wrong in what we are doing. This is the only way to make them pay the taxes.”
Kundu said the raids on private homes yielded rich dividends yesterday. “We earned a total of Rs 1.5 lakh yesterday from the defaulters who, fearful of the seizure of their property and household goods, paid up.”
The officials seized several household items like television sets and refrigerators from the houses of those who had failed to clear their dues.
Today’s raids were mostly focussed on government offices. But the officials visited the home of a defaulter and seized his Maruti car after the man expressed his inability to pay up.
Kundu said they raided the fisheries department since it owed more than Rs 14 lakh to the municipality in taxes. “We had repeatedly asked them to pay up, but they had paid no attention.”
District fisheries officer Tuhin Kumar Bagulia said he had informed the “higher-ups several times” about the money they owed to the municipality. “What can we do if they don’t pay up'” he asked.
Kundu said the municipality would soon raid the district magistrate’s office. “We will seize the stuff the offices have. No one will be spared.” Additional district magistrate D. Mitra admitted that the administration owed a lot to the municipality. “They have told us about the taxes, but they never said they are going to raid our offices.”