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Darjeeling civic body richer by Rs 10 lakh

Darjeeling, March 5: The zamindari department of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-led Darjeeling municipality has collected more than Rs 10 lakh in rent from lease holders in 26 days as against an annual collection of Rs 2 lakh by the previous boards.

The revenue collection drive has also brought to light the modus operandi of many lease-holders of municipal properties who had managed to hoodwink the civic body on revenue for years.

Seshmani Gurung, commissioner in charge of the zamindari department, said: “Within a span of 26 days, we managed to collect taxes of Rs 10,42,478, merely from three of the Darjeeling municipality buildings (named A, B and C).”

Elections to the hill municipalities, including Darjeeling, were held in December 2010, more than two years after nobody came forward to file nominations for the polls after the five-year term ended. At that time, the municipality was looked after by a board of administrators appointed by the government.

The Darjeeling municipality has 26 buildings (named A to Z), three supermarkets, one “LB building” (with 20 flats), apart from around 44 acres of land that it leases out.

“In the past, the collection by the zamindari department never crossed the Rs 3 lakh mark while the average collection stood at Rs 2 lakh per annum,” said Gurung.

The collection has been possible after the department scrutinised the papers of the lease-holders of the three buildings, A to C.

“In some cases we found out that the lease-holder had sold the shops for Rs 11 lakh. It is illegal to either sub-lease or sell leased property. The municipality was getting a rent of only Rs 240 per month from the person who had taken the property on lease,” said Gurung.

In most civic buildings, the rent hovers around the Rs 200-280 mark, which was fixed nearly 15 years ago, a civic official said. The civic authorities not only made the new owner pay a salami (an advance) of Rs 2 lakh but also increased the rent from Rs 240 to Rs 8,160. “This is the prevailing market rate of the shop in the area,” said Gurung.

An official said the rent of all buildings had not been increased. “We are doing a case by case study,” he said.

The officials also took action against shops which had been sub-leased by the original owners. “We had closed down ATMs of various banks which had come up on sub-leased property but later we made them pay fines of Rs 60,000-70,000 each, depending on the space they occupied,” said Gurung.

The commissioner also said the lease-holders of almost 80-90 per cent of the shops in Darjeeling had sub-leased their property to other people at a higher rate.

“They pay the municipality a monthly rent of Rs 240 but they had sub-leased the shops to a third party for anything between Rs 2,000 and Rs 5,000,” said Gurung.

The municipality has also found out that most of the buildings given to citizens for residential purposes were being sub-leased for commercial purposes. “We are in the process of ascertaining the market price of such properties. Rents for residential buildings are in the range of Rs 50-150 but even then there are number of cases in which the people have not paid their rents and their total outstanding dues have reached around Rs 30,000,” said Gurung.

Civic authorities had earlier said the total annual expenditure of the municipality in terms of salaries, wages for daily workers, gratuity to retired employees and a portion of their pension stood at Rs 1.02 crore.

“It is difficult for us to manage. We have to pay 20 per cent of the salaries (the rest is paid by the state government) of the 456 permanent employees of the municipality. Also, we do not get any financial help to pay the 193 daily wage workers who get Rs 75 a day,” said a municipality official.

Apart from rents, the municipality gets its revenue from trade licences, taxes of residential and commercial properties and mutation fees among others.