The water-tax war heated up on Thursday with the government announcing that the levy would even be slapped on marginal-income groups, like slum- dwellers, roadside shop-owners and water-carriers. This follows Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s threat to stop the realisation of water tax.
The government even sought to drive a wedge between Mamata and mayor Subrata Mukherjee on this count. “I am happy that Mukherjee, unlike his party chief, is not opposed to the government’s move to introduce water tax,” said municipal affairs and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya at Writers’ Buildings on Thursday.
Explaining that the water-tax issue was “non-negotiable”, Bhattacharya reiterated that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), as well as other civic bodies, have been asked to introduce the tax from this month.
After handing over a copy of the government order on water tax to the mayor, Bhattacharya said the CMC would be required to collect Rs 5 every month from each family in the slums. “The government has made it clear in the order that anybody dwelling in the CMC area and using water supplied by it will have to pay a service charge. But, of course, in their case, the charges will be nominal,” said Bhattacharya. Owners of small roadside shops, eateries and tea-stalls will have to cough up Rs 20 per month, the minister added.
According to the government order, even water-carriers selling water from streetside taps to households will be required to pay Rs 20 per month to the CMC. “They (the water-carriers) run a business using a commodity supplied by the CMC. There is no harm in asking them to pay a nominal amount to the Corporation,” said Subrata Mukherjee, backing this government clause, while clarifying that slum-dwellers should be kept out of the water-tax purview.
Bhattacharya, meanwhile, announced that the CMC would not be allowed to use the funds generated through water tax collected in the slum areas. Instead, the entire amount collected from there will be handled by “users’ committees”, to be set up in the slums. The funds will be utilised for minor repairs in the localities. “This will spare slum-dwellers the trouble of waiting for CMC workers to repair minor faults in the area,” he explained.
Citing the example of the Arambagh municipality, that is already charging water tax, Bhattacharya said such a model would not only generate revenue but also ensure that the paying public demands better services from the civic bodies.