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Sell-off clout for house tax

Picture this. One fine morning, officials of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) assemble in front of a three-storeyed building, armed with an order from the municipal commissioner. The owner lives in the house with a few tenants and has not paid property tax for years. The officials auction the house and hand it over to the highest bidder. They also summarily evict the tenants and the owner.

This is what mayor Subrata Mukherjee proposes in an amendment to the CMC Act of 1980. The mayor’s proposal — that will be sent to the municipal affairs department for approval — confers absolute right on the municipal commissioner to evict the owner and tenants of a building before handing it over to the highest bidder to realise tax dues.

Mukherjee’s detractors in the mayor-in-council, as well as in the CPM-led opposition, have already dubbed the proposal “Draconian”. “The proposal is not only anti-people, but reminds one of the atrocities carried out by landlords in the medieval ages,” commented mayor-in-council member Anup Chatterjee.

Council dissident member Javed Khan alleged that promoters had steered the proposal. “It is clear that the move has been heavily influenced and dictated by realtors with malicious intent towards middle-class traders and tenants,” said Khan.

Other mayoral council members like Mala Roy and Samsuzzaman Ansari said the proposal goes against the law of the land.

CPM councillors, too, like Sudhanshu Sil, Amal Mitra, Faiz Khan and Rupa Bagchi, dubbed the proposal “mischievous” and said it was drafted to hand over rented properties to realtors.

Under existing provisions of Section 226 (1) of the CMC Act, if property tax and other civic levies remain outstanding, the municipal commissioner reserves the right to sell the property by public auction. The house-owner will first be given three months to clear the dues.

The mayor has proposed to insert a new clause in the Act as Section 226 (1) (a), conferring absolute right on the municipal commissioner to hand over the vacant building with absolute title rights to the highest bidder in an auction by evicting the tenants with the help of the police, totally bypassing the Premises Tenancy Act.

The proposal was placed for discussion in the CMC’s monthly meeting of councillors for ratification last week but a decision was deferred at the last moment.

The mayor said the existing provisions of the CMC Act do not confer absolute power on the municipal commissioner to grant title rights of the property sold by him through public auction to the highest bidder. “In case of a tenanted building, the highest bidder still fails to get physical possession of a building after the auction,” he added.

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