With mayor Subrata Mukherjee piloting the move, legislation is on the anvil to make tenants and slum-dwellers pay for the civic amenities they enjoy.
“It is necessary for the survival and rejuvenation of the city and it will act as a deterrent to the drift of have-nots from the districts and from Bihar, Orissa and Bangladesh,” the mayor explained.
Municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya said he was yet to receive such a proposal from the mayor. “However, if the civic authorities suggest such a tax and submit a proposal, we will explore its legal validity,” he said.
Former mayoral council member Sudhanshu Sil, now CPM councillor and legislator, backed the mayor. He said citizens enjoying civic amenities should share a part of the cost required to provide them.
In defence of the legislation, senior councillor and mayoral council member Pradip Ghosh pointed out: “Occupiers’ tax is not a new concept. Earlier, the civic authorities would collect tax from the tenants, too.” Ghosh holds the civic portfolio of slum development.
“The recent imposition of water tax can be an eye-opener,” the mayor said. Earlier, the state government, the civic authorities and the political parties had always unanimously opposed the imposition of a tax on filtered water. But the deplorable financial condition of the civic body had made the levy inevitable,” he added.
Hence, users of civic amenities should have to pay for them, now that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) coffers are empty. It was “magnanimity” on the part of the tax-payers that they had allowed the CMC to provide services to those with little stake in the city, said mayor Mukherjee.
He pointed out that Calcutta was perhaps the only city in the world where the cost of providing civic amenities to 10 million people was borne by 300,000 house-owners only.
Since the tax-payers are the minority, the civic authorities, too, are less bothered about their welfare. As an example, the mayor cited slum development. The civic body has a full-fledged department and a mayor-in-council member to look after the welfare of the slums, though they contribute nothing to the CMC coffers.
Mukherjee said this “unfair practice” should have been stopped a long time ago. “It should have struck some predecessor of mine that even the slum-dwellers should be made to pay for something that they use. They cannot expect others to foot the bill. The time has come to get matters rectified,” he asserted.