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Court hands CMC axe for water tax

The civic authorities can now disconnect as many water-lines as they want — all except three in the entire city — in a bid to realise unpaid property taxes from the defaulting premises.

Overturning an earlier ruling by a single bench of Calcutta High Court, a division bench of the same court on Wednesday empowered the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to unleash a water-tax war on defaulters. But the taps can only be turned off after three notices are sent to the premises concerned.

The three city properties enjoying a breather for the moment are Nilambar Finvest Ltd, Ritesh Kapadia and Kerb & Cie Private Ltd, the three litigants who dragged the civic authorities to high court, demanding reconnection of water-lines.

All three have been asked to be present in court for the next hearing on February 24, when the bench will deal with the three litigations together.

But the hundreds of others who had faced the CMC’s water-axe last year — including big names like the Oberoi Grand, Hotel Hindustan International and Karnani Mansions — will now be back in the snap-line if they do not pay their dues.

Nilambar and the other two litigants had argued, in front of Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya, that Rule 275 (1) (aa) of the CMC Act, 1998, was “bad in law”.

It empowered the CMC to suspend the supply of water to any house-owner who had not paid property tax dues for a year. The litigants argued that the CMC could not hold back water for a default of payment of tax under any other head, prompting Justice Bhattacharya to give his assent and forcing the CMC to declare a ceasefire in its water wars.

But the civic body also appealed to a division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Jayanta Biswas, to overturn the single-bench verdict. The CMC legal team argued that the defaulters were hindering development work in the city by holding back civic revenue, a member of the squad, Ashok Das Adhikari, said. The CMC was losing crores by way of unrealised revenue, Das told the court.

The CMC has to pay salaries and pension amounting to several crores, besides carrying out the routine work it has to undertake from time to time to give Calcuttans the civic amenities they take for granted, claimed civic officials. Even the regular contractors could not be paid, prompting a series of agitations last year, they added.

“How is it possible to function if the revenue stream has dried up'” the CMC counsel asked the court, arguing that some sort of pressure mechanism must be put in place to deal with tax-defaulters.

The division bench admitted the appeal, staying the earlier order given by Justice Bhattacharya. In the interim order, the judges said the civic body could again make use of Rule 275 (1) (aa) of the CMC Act of 1998. This, in effect, allows the civic authorities to suspend water supply to house-owners reluctant to pay property tax.

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