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April rain check for water tax

Under pressure from the Left Front constituents, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government said on Tuesday it was deferring till April the proposed collection of water tax from consumers in Calcutta and municipal areas elsewhere.

The contentious water tax, central to the agendas of various political parties for urban governance for several months, was to have come into operation in Calcutta and the municipal areas across Bengal in January itself. This, to conform with the conditions laid down by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for sanctioning funds for developing waterworks.

“Our basic objective, namely introducing water charges, remains unchanged,” said Asok Bhattacharya, municipal affairs minister. “But we cannot introduce such charges now because we will have to undertake another exercise for the benefit of the poor. We may not be able to operate such charges before April.”

The latest government stand on water tax was the outcome of the Left Front meeting during the day, when the constituents demanded a reconsideration for the benefit of the poor.

Interestingly, the Front thought twice about water tax only a day after the near-successful, SUCI-sponsored Bangla bandh on Monday.

The Front leadership asked minister Bhattacharya not to implement the water charges immediately and, instead, prepare a report on how to implement the scheme without hurting the interests of the poor, especially those living below the poverty line.

Front chairman and CPM Politburo member Biman Bose said on Tuesday that Bhattacharya had been asked to prepare a report and submit it to the Front leadership for consideration. “Our intention is to offer relief to the poor and those below the poverty line. These people will not have to pay water charges,” Bose said.

Water meters will be installed in domestic and commercial establishments in Calcutta, too. “But our rate will be less than the rates charged in other metros, like Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi,” Bose said.

The urban development ministry will finalise the water rates in different municipalities and the tax will be introduced after all the Front constituents agree to it.

Bose, however, hinted that charges in Salt Lake might be slightly higher than those in other municipal areas, because “the relatively well-off live in Salt Lake. The municipality here collects less water charges against what its counterpart fetches from Memari. How can we allow this lopsided situation to exist'” he said.

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