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State cries foul on water tax
- Civic body blamed with bias in tagging levy with property dues

The Left Front government on Thursday blamed the Trinamul Congress-run Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) for framing an unfair water-tax policy. By connecting water tax with the annual valuation of property in the city, the civic authorities were actually trying to operate a cross-subsidy regime, alleged the ruling communists.

The civic body’s efforts to structure a price band for water supply dominated the day’s proceedings in the Assembly, after municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya attacked the Trinamul for “playing favourites with tax-payers”.

“The move (to connect water charges with the annual valuation of property) is unjustified and unprecedented,” Bhattacharya told the Assembly. He urged the civic authorities to rethink the issue and frame a policy, which would be fair to all property-owners.

From the government’s perspective, the CMC’s decision to design a fresh high threshold for water charges was lopsided and helped those having property in Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur, where the average annual valuation is “incredibly low”.

According to the CMC policy, a house-owner paying Rs 2,000 or more as property tax, at the rate of 40 per cent of the annual valuation of Rs 5,000, will come under the purview of water tax. “The objective behind this proposal is to keep house-owners of Behala, Jadavpur and Garden Reach outside the purview of water fees,” charged CPM legislator and councillor Sudhanshu Sil.

Outside the Assembly, the government furnished figures in support of its contention. Apparently, the 300,000-plus households in the added areas of Behala, Jadavpur and Garden Reach — a politically crucial zone — pay a total of Rs 16 crore a year as property tax, against a sum of Rs 200-plus crore collected from 350,000 buildings in the city proper. Several house-owners in the added areas pay as little as Rs 200 per head as property tax, government officials argued.

The CMC had long been collecting water charges depending on the ferrule-size of households. In contrast, the Left Front government says that households paying at least Rs 100 as property tax must also shell out water charges.

When Left Front MLAs wanted to know if action would be taken against the CMC and other municipal boards if they, under pressure from the Trinamul Congress, failed to implement the state government’s water-pricing policy, Bhattacharya said: “If they don’t collect water fees, development activities, like construction of roads, sewer lines and streetlighting, will be severely affected.”

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