The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tax-shy panchayats' power stripped

Krishnagar, Aug. 7: Concerned over poor collection of property tax in rural areas, the Nadia administration has stripped village panchayats of their power to assess property.

District magistrate Rajesh Pandey has issued instructions that from now on, the block development officer will assess movable and immovable assets, such as land and houses, of 18 lakh villagers in Nadia and submit a valuation list to the village panchayats.

The rural bodies would collect the tax following the officers' assessment.

The district magistrate informed the panchayat and rural development department late last month about the decline in the collection of revenue. The curb on panchayats came after the government gave the go-ahead.

Panchayat department sources said such a measure by a district administration over rural bodies' failure to perform was unprecedented.

Pandey said: 'We expected the 189 gram panchayats to mop up around Rs 3 crore ' which is 50 percent of the target ' as property tax. But they collected a meagre Rs 50 lakh. The drastic step had to be taken as we felt we could not remain mute spectators.'

Pandey said a snap survey had revealed that besides being inefficient in property assessment, the panchayats were guilty of not being keen on collecting the taxes. 'They (panchayats) did not want to collect the levy for fear of becoming unpopular,' he added.

One village council, at Polsunda, collected Rs 2,000 from 3,000 residents in the past financial year. Another panchayat, Tehatta-II, collected about Rs 3,500 from almost 5,000 taxpayers.

Among the better performers were Bethuadahari and Birpur in Nakashipara. They jointly collected Rs 2 lakh in the same period but it was less than 40 per cent of what they should have done.

'We dug into our records and found that tax collection has been very low in the past few years. The panchayat authorities ignored the government's instruction to collect as much revenue as possible,' Pandey said.

After a series of meetings with officers in the district administration's panchayat cell, it was found that a prime reason for the low tax collection was faulty assessment. 'In some cases there was no assessment at all,' Pandey added.

Inquiries revealed several such instances. 'A man who owns a two-storey house and a tractor apart from vast tracts of land was caught paying as little as a common farmer with a one bigha plot and a hut to live in,' a senior official said.

The chief of the CPM-controlled zilla parishad, Rama Biswas, admitted the panchayats need to increase their tax base and perform better.

She added that the BDO's office should be realistic while assessing property. 'The poor should not be burdened too much with taxes.'

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