The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has been unable to generate much-needed resources, as have the municipal bodies of several other cities.
A national-level meeting held in the city recently brought this to the fore, and indicated that the “strong-arm tactics” that the CMC has been using to collect taxes may not be as efficient as adopting user-friendly and IT-assisted methods.
The CMC is lagging in three major areas of revenue-generation: property tax, or house tax, which is the mainstay of earnings in any urban municipality; user charges for various services, like conservancy, water supply and drainage; and the tapping of capital markets. As a result, the civic body is heavily dependent on government subsidies and funding.
“All urban bodies should be self-sufficient in revenue-building,” stressed M. Shankar, secretary in the Union ministry of urban development and poverty alleviation, at the meeting. To meet the challenges of rapid urbanisation and growing population, revenue-generation must be optimised, he said.
From the presentations made by senior municipal officials of five major cities, it was evident that the CMC had a lot to catch up on. Parleys in between sessions comprised comparisons of how a particular city had tackled common problems. “Tax need not be a loathsome word if you can get the tax-payer on your side,” said Chitra Ramachandran, commissioner of the municipal corporation of Hyderabad. Commissioners and additional commissioners from Indore, Bangalore, Patna and Ahmedabad also spoke at the seminar.
“By using user-friendly methods, collections have gone up remarkably,” said K. Pare of Indore Municipal Corporation. “Our mayor-at-your-door scheme has proved popular. The mayor visits a ward a day and residents tell him their woes. Whenever possible, the problem is sorted out then and there.”
The self-assessment system of paying taxes has also clicked. One example was in the area of property tax (see chart). Same was the story in Bangalore and Ahmedabad.
Relating methods adopted in Hyderabad, commissioner Ramachandran said e-governance was in place in a big way. “Instead of bill collectors, we have e-seva kendras. Tax-payers produce the demand notice, see the amount that has to be paid and do so across the counter. Collection in the first 40 days of starting this system was Rs 5 crore. People are willing if they know they won’t be harassed,” she said.
Bengal municipal mandarins, including urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya and CMC commissioner Debasis Som, admitted that municipal revenue-generation by the state and Calcutta was lacking.