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Refuse dump at dry-tap retail door

Raising a stink, Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC)-style.

Hours after snapping the water connection to Pantaloons — the retail outlet near Gariahat — the CMC “strategically positioned” two garbage vats in front of its entrance late on Saturday, preventing the seven-day-open outlet from ushering in the holiday crowd on Sunday.

The CMC —in the midst of a drive to mop up Rs 56 crore of unrealised property-tax revenue from 15 defaulters spread across the city, including government-run institutions like Presidency College and South Eastern Railway (SER) — has already turned the taps dry at eight addresses.

But it appears to have saved its worst for Pantaloons, where its officials allegedly faced the maximum resistance on Saturday when they were on a waterline-snap spree. Member, mayor-in-council, conservancy Rajib Deb, had a ready response to the why-the-vats question.

“It is just convenient to place the vats there,” Deb insisted. “They used to be kept a little distance away in the same locality, but we felt things would be better if they were moved away from the residential buildings.”

According to CMC estimates, Pantaloons owes it Rs 1.3 crore by way of unpaid tax. Senior store official R.S. Rekhi, however, chose not to play the blame game. Admitting to huge losses over the weekend, Rekhi said the matter had been sorted out between the building’s owner and the civic authorities.

“We are opening shop on Monday,” insisted Rekhi, with 48 hours to go for Retail 2003, a two-day national seminar organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) at a city hotel. Pantaloons, as the “original retail success story in the city”, will play a major role in the meet.

If Pantaloons chose to wait for the crisis to blow over, the response from some of the 14 other addresses (from Park Street to Strand Road to India Exchange Place) targeted during the present dry-tap drive showed that it would not be all smooth sailing for the CMC. The government-owned institutions were particularly belligerent.

SER general manager V.N. Garg said the Garden Reach-headquartered agency received a notice from the civic body last week. “But every time we ask for the specific building that has tax arrears, the CMC clams up,” he said. “Besides, why should a central government institution be asked to pay civic taxes' And we are not dependent on the CMC for the water we drink.”

Director of public instruction P.K. Ganguly, too, refused to be pushed on to the back foot. “I was not aware of any such outstanding taxes till I received the information that CMC officials had pasted posters on the Presidency College premises on Saturday,” he said.

“But it is the public works department (PWD) that has to pay such taxes from budgetary allocations made to it and we will check on Monday whether any other educational institution has such arrears,” he added.

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