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Govt grasp on civic body
- Bill empowers state to frame conduct code for councillors

Calcutta, July 29: Amid protests from the Opposition, the Assembly today passed a bill that empowered the government to frame a code of conduct for councillors of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

Trinamul Congress legislators staged a walkout and burnt a copy of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2003, in the lobby after municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya tabled the bill.

The legislation came in the backdrop of the assault of a municipal commissioner by Trinamul councillors in June. Clashes between Trinamul and Left Front councillors last week lent urgency to it.

Front councillors had demanded a debate on the assault of commissioner Debasish Som before the chairman of the corporation, Trinamul’s Anil Mukherjee. After it was rejected, front members prevented Mukherjee, 70, from entering his office. The clash followed.

Unlike Som, Mukherjee did not escape with minor bruises. He was injured on his head and chin and collapsed on the floor before being rushed to hospital.

But even a bleeding Mukherjee did not deter the warring councillors. Scuffles and skirmishes continued. At one point, a Trinamul councillor took off his shoes and aimed at a CPM counterpart.

When the bill was placed before the House today, Som was in the gallery where officials sit during debates concerning their departments.

Trinamul MLA Kalyan Banerjee urged the minister to withdraw the bill. “Is it the duty of the government to determine code of conduct for elected representatives'” he asked in the lobby and alleged that the CPM-led front was trying to destabilise the Trinamul-run civic body by trying to establish a control of sorts.

Trinamul chief whip in the Assembly Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay told reporters the government was trying bring the Trinamul councillors and the Trinamul-run corporation under its stranglehold. “CMC is an autonomous body and its councillors were elected directly by the people of Calcutta. So, the state government has no moral right to frame rules on the code of conduct for the councillors,” he said.

The Congress legislators echoed him.

City mayor Subrata Mukherjee, a Trinamul MLA, was conspicuous by his absence during the debate. The assault on Som had been interpreted as an outburst against Mukherjee by a section of the members of his council.

Defending the bill, Bhattacharya said: “If we had any intention of toppling the CMC board, we could bring a no-confidence motion. We were certain to get support from some of the Trinamul councillors. We did not do that because we don’t want to capture the civic body by unfair means.”

Water tax: The same bill also formally empowered the corporation to levy an annual fee on the supply of filtered water, not exceeding 10 per cent of property tax.

Saugata Roy of Trinamul urged Bhattacharya to reduce the upper limit of the water tax to 8 per cent. The plea was rejected.

The Assembly also passed the West Bengal Additional Tax and One-time Tax on Motor Vehicles (Second Amendment) Bill and the West Bengal Motor Vehicles Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2003.

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