Calcutta, Nov. 12: Mayor Subrata Mukherjee today unveiled a full rollback of water tax under pressure from party leader Mamata Banerjee, paving the ground for a showdown of the civic authority with the Bengal government and jeopardising a huge loan from an international funding agency for the city’s improvement.
Mamata did not even allow Mukherjee the chance to make the announcement, claiming the privilege herself, though she does not have the authority to do so as she is not an elected member of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.
The mayor admitted that the civic body would lose revenue because of the rollback, but claimed bravely that it would not pose any great difficulty.
About Rs 4 crore has already been paid by house owners as water tax, which will now be adjusted against their future property tax bills.
The rollback is a gross violation of the conditions set by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which provided a soft loan of Rs 1,245 crore for Calcutta’s environment improvement. Mukherjee had signed an agreement with the ADB in 2001 — with the state government as guarantor — by which the civic body is bound to impose a water tax.
The ADB has so far disbursed about Rs 200 crore and the fate of the rest of the loan now becomes uncertain.
Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said the civic body is bound to levy water tax because it is part of a legislation.
“The decision to impose water tax was taken in a meeting last year where all the mayors and chairpersons of different corporations and municipalities were present. Subrata Mukherjee was a signatory to the minutes of the meeting,” Bhattacharya said.
A bill was passed in the Assembly to levy the tax. “So, the mayor has no authority to revoke the water tax. He cannot do whatever he or his party leader likes. He is bound to follow legislation.”
The government had asked all municipalities to impose water tax after the law was enacted.
Last March, the civic body decided to impose water tax on house owners paying a property tax of Rs 500 quarterly. There is no one in the city proper who pays less than Rs 500.
A senior legal officer of the civic body said the mayor’s announcement has no meaning because on paper the water tax is still on as a legislation was passed in the Assembly.
Mukherjee said the matter was “very complicated”. “It is the responsibility of two of my mayor-in-council members Anup Chatterjee and Sobhan Chatterjee to look into the rollback,” he said.
Mamata had cornered the mayor last Sunday at a meeting of Trinamul councillors, MPs and MLAs from Calcutta on the water tax and other decisions. She also accused the mayor of not taking any initiative to remove municipal commissioner Debashish Som after he had got five members of the mayor’s council arrested in June.