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Since 1st March, 1999
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Civic tax slash with eye on poll

Mamata did today what Jaya did yesterday, or was it the day before'

Taking a leaf out of Tamil Nadu’s post-poll bonanza book (rollback of power tariff), Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress civic board in the city rolled out a slew of sops on Monday, from property to IT, cinema to Kumartuli.

“Ever since I stepped into the mayor’s office three years ago, I have been trying to maximise tax realisation,” said Subrata Mukherjee, while presenting the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) budget 2004-05.

The civic body goes to the polls next year.

“I think the current proposals are a true reflection of my philosophy of less tax and wider coverage,” said the mayor.

As and when implemented, the bouquet of concessions and tax breaks unveiled by the mayor on Monday would add up to a revenue loss of Rs 60 crore for the civic body.

Mukherjee pegged the estimated expenditure for the fiscal at around Rs 833 crore (including about Rs 230 crore to meet the wage bill), against a projected income of around Rs 720 crore from three distinct streams representing tax revenue, non-tax revenue and government grants.

Last year, the CMC set a new record in 50 years by mobilising Rs 667 crore on its own.

The deficit of over Rs 113 crore is expected to balloon midway. “If we get the time to do our job, we will manage the deficit somehow. Didn’t we exceed the target last year'” demanded Mukherjee.

The mayor’s budget proposals, to be debated over the next three days, can be split into the economic and the political.

The civic tax slash for setting up of IT and entertainment companies, as well as small-scale units, is an attempt to bring the present momentum in the IT and related fields in neighbouring Salt Lake and Rajarhat into Calcutta, as well.

“There is no other way I can expand the base of Calcutta’s economy,” Mukherjee told Metro. “Thanks to the government’s policies, Calcutta today is just a city with a few shopping malls, a few star hotels and a few flyovers. It does not have economic power. The real power lies with Salt Lake.”

At the political level, the absence of new taxes, the downward revision of property tax, the rollback of water charges and the emphasis on slum development and construction of 100 pay-and-use toilets found Mukherjee toeing the Mamata line.

“My job is very clear,” said Mukherjee. “I have to improve the condition of the people living in slums, apart from doing something about our roads and pavements, for which I have been able to keep aside Rs 33 crore.”

The mayor claimed that a large number of Calcuttans would benefit from the reversion to ferrule-based water tax as well as from the initiative taken to boost the rental housing business by slashing property tax collected on the basis of annual valuation.

The mayor also said that except the essential service wings, all CMC offices would remain closed on Saturday and Sunday and to compensate for the mandays lost, daily working hours from Monday to Friday would be extended by half an hour.

A pension scheme for former civic councillors will also be introduced.

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