The taxman cometh to the campus. After Presidency College, it is now the turn of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), in its latest avatar of property-tax collector, to knock on the doors of Jadavpur University (JU).
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has set the premier university a 72-hour deadline — like he had to Presidency last week — to clear property-tax dues adding up Rs 1.64 crore. JU officials, on Thursday, were in a fix over how to escape the taxman’s axe.
There appeared to be two options open to the university, beseech or be belligerent. The first involves trying to gain a “sympathetic consideration” from the mayor, while the second means trying to prove that the university does not owe the CMC anything. Varsity officials, till late on Thursday, were working hard on both the fronts.
JU registrar Rajat Bandyopadhyay was leading the move to mollify the mayor, officials said. “We have received the mayor’s notice,” Bandyopadhyay admitted. “We will meet him on Friday and request him to consider our case sympathetically.”
The university registrar explained that JU had already paid its property tax for 2003-04. “The outstanding amount is a result of confusion over the amount the CMC gets from us for the period stretching back to the last lap of the erstwhile Left Front board,” said Bandyopadhyay.
Finance department officials, however, were working overtime to convince mayor Mukherjee that the university was not really in the red. Senior superintendent of the university Jyotiprasanna Das Thakur said JU had with it a document — issued by the former CPM-led civic board — stating that its dues had been written off. “We have with us a CMC-issued document to prove that,” declared the Trinamul Congress councillor.
Das Thakur said the institution did not have to pay any property tax at all till 1998. It was then that the university received a notice from the civic authorities, informing it that it would have to cough up Rs 50 lakh.
The matter was taken up with then mayor Prasanta Chatterjee and it was decided that the CMC would write off the dues if the university made a one-time payment of Rs 10 lakh. “The balance was written off as a grant-in-aid,” Das Thakur explained.
But asking the CMC to prove its property-tax dues could lead to a legal tangle. Neither the mayor nor a revenue officer had the right to write off property-tax dues accruing to the CMC, Mukherjee insisted.
Quoting from the CMC Act of 1980, the mayor said none of his predecessors had the right to waive property tax or the interest calculated on it. “A mayor can show his discretion or clemency, call it what you will, by only writing off the penalty,” he clarified.
By the end of the day, however, Mukherjee was willing to concede some ground. “My advice would be that JU approach the state government for a special order waiving the interest on the principal that is due to us… But, going by the rules, I do not think the university will be able to get much more of a breather than that,” he said.
Officials, however, said even this could be mean a lot for the university. After all, if the government does grant JU the special order, the outstanding figure payable to the CMC would come down to less than a crore.