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Mayor scraps inspection raj

Pay the civic body and start your business. You don’t need to bribe the civic inspector any longer. That, at least, is how mayor Subrata Mukherjee is looking at licences required for operating commercial establishments in Calcutta.

Henceforth, anyone wishing to start a trade outlet, be it a guest-house, an eatery or one selling meat, just has to walk up to the single-window counter at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and pay the licence fee.

There isn’t going to be any inspection or any need for prior approval of the CMC’s building department (for change of use from domestic to commercial) or the CMC’s health department (in case of an eatery). And you don’t require the landlord’s prior approval either, if you are operating from rented premises.

The new set of rules, feels mayor Mukherjee (the man behind the inspection raj abolishment), will benefit traders by saving them “undue harassment by corrupt health and licence inspectors and augment revenue accruing to the civic coffers.”

Political opponents, however, disagree. CPM and Congress councillors have decried the move as one “institutionalising lawlessness to earn money.”

Even members of the mayor-in-council, including the deputy mayor of the BJP, have gone on record saying the move has been enforced by the mayor and municipal commissioner Debasis Som without the mayor-in-council’s approval.

The new set of rules, admittedly, can prove a boon for the traders. Anyone wishing to start a new trade had to secure permission first from the building department of the CMC (under Section 416 of the CMC Act, 1980, allowing for change of use of the building from residential to commercial purpose). The maximum fee for this conversion was Rs 5,000.

After that, he had to obtain permission under Section 421 of the CMC Act from the civic health department, after allowing a civic food inspector to visit the premises to verify whether the conditions (health and sanitation aspects) contained in Rule 50 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1954, were being followed. The fee for this, too, could be Rs 5,000.

In case of an outlet selling any type of meat, a veterinary officer would verify whether the provisions of Section 440 of the CMC Act were being met.

Now, only the CMC’s licence department will collect the fees for the change in character of the use of space and necessary health clearances. Physical inspection before issuing a licence has been done away with.

The CMC has good reason to be happy. Licence department collections shot up to Rs 3 crore in the first 12 days of the new set of rules coming into force, against the usual collection of Rs 10 lakh for the same period.

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