The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Water tax meets its Waterloo

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s council members have vetoed his decision to impose water tax on house-owners of Calcutta proper, who are already overburdened with a hefty property tax.

Toeing Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee’s line, most of the members at the mayoral council meeting shouted down the proposal to levy a tax of between Rs 150 and Rs 250 per quarter from the city’s house-owners, who are forced to cough up property tax not less than Rs 500 every quarter.

By the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) Act, 1980, the mayor’s proposal has met its Waterloo, because it was not ratified unanimously by the council.

The mayor-in-council meetings in the CMC are to be convened once a week. But considering the division of opinion among the members, Mukherjee had abstained from convening a meeting for the past two weeks.

Council members alleged that mayor Mukherjee and member (water supply) Sovan Chatterjee had contrived to bring 80 per cent of the house-owners in the city proper (wards 1 to 100) under the water-tax umbrella, with the aim to exempt all house-owners in the added areas of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur (wards 101 to 141). They pointed out that no individual house or apartment-owner in the added areas had to fork out Rs 500 per quarter as property tax.

Mukherjee has been in a minority in his own council in this battle over taxes. Of the 10 council members, only three — Sovan Chatterjee, Rajiv Deb and Pradip Ghosh — are with him. Even deputy mayor Meena Devi Purohit of the BJP has joined the dissident ranks.

Subrata Mukherjee had defended his proposal, saying: “The CMC has been taxing house-owners using water ferrules of 20-mm and 25-mm width from 1986. A person paying property tax of Rs 500 per quarter gets water from a 20-mm ferrule. A house-owner paying Rs 900 quarterly is eligible to a 25-mm ferrule. But house-owners paying less than Rs 500 will still not have to pay water tax.”

Countering the mayor’s defence, the dissident council members asked: “If a person who pays Rs 1 lakh a year as income-tax buys a car, can the government levy a motor vehicle tax on all those who pay Rs 1 lakh or above as income-tax '” The Left Front, they pointed out, would levy tax on the physical existence of a 20-mm or 25-mm ferrule and never tagged water tax with the amount of property tax paid quarterly.

The government on Tuesday asked the CMC and other civic bodies to maintain their expenses by collecting water tax from domestic and commercial users from January 1, 2003.

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