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Lake clubs in troubled waters over rent hike
- SAROBAR source for cit funds

April could be an uncomfortable month for those doing business in — or visiting — the Dhakuria lakes. Unable to get any funds from the state government under salary heads in recent months, a cash-strapped Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) has decided to raise the existing rent of all clubs in the Lakes from April.

“We are left with no option but to revise the rent structure in at least 10 clubs on the Rabindra Sarobar campus to mop up additional revenue,” said state urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya. “The move is part of the CIT’s scheme to generate its own resources to meet its spiralling expenses,” he added.

According to Bhattacharya, the lease deeds of these clubs have expired in 1998 and the enhanced rates will be collected from the clubs, along with the arrears, from April. “I know that the clubs may oppose the idea but we can’t help it, since the government is passing through a severe financial crisis,” clarified the minister.

Amit Bose, secretary of the Indian Life Saving Society (ILSS), resented the CIT’s move and said it was “unfair” to increase the rent without improving the upkeep of the Lakes. “We don’t mind paying more rent, provided the CIT takes up some development work in the area. But the Trust has stopped short of making any significant contribution,” he complained.

Officials said the CIT used to get around Rs 7 to 8 crore every year from the government, for disbursement of salaries, out of its annual expenditure of Rs 25 crore. “But for the past seven months, we have not been getting any funds from the government under the salary heads. This has made it virtually impossible for us to meet the monthly salary expenses of nearly 1,400 staff, solely from funds being collected as stamp duty through the purchase of properties in the city. We get only two per cent on every purchase of land or property taking place in the city,” they added. The CIT owes the government Rs 120 crore as arrears on stamp duty.

Ranjan Bose, CIT chief valuer, said he had already written to the respective club authorities, informing them about the proposed rate revision. “We shall be able to collect over Rs 30,000 per month from the clubs on the basis of the enhanced rates,” explained Bose.

In another move, the CIT, ignoring public criticism, has decided to slap an entry fee on morning walkers and tourists visiting the renovated Padmapukur, that was unveiled in December by Union minister for forests and environment T.R. Balu. The two other zones in the entry-fee net are the Lions Safari Park and the Lilypool park.

During the inaugural function of Padmapukur, Trinamul Congress MLA from Dhakuria Sougata Roy and CPM legislator from Ballygunge Rabin Deb had joined forces to protest the CIT’s move to impose entry fees in these green belts. Undeterred by criticism, the funds-starved Trust has made it clear that it would have to impose entry fees, ranging between Rs 3 and Rs 5, from April.

“However, before introducing the entry fee, we have worked out a scheme to beautify the three lakes by raising the boundary wall and installing joyrides in them,” added CIT officials.

As far as a blanket fee for morning-walkers goes, no decision has been taken yet. “We are working on a proposal to charge a nominal annual fee of Rs 200 per head from morning-walkers, but it is yet to be okayed by the government,” said a senior CIT official.

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