Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ministers feel citizen fury at meeting on property tax


Ministers feel citizen fury at meeting on property tax

Minister Katta Subramanya Naidu pacified citizens at an intense BBMP public meeting on 15 July saying that the state government had not made up its mind on the status of the CVS-based property tax scheme.

By Supriya Khandekar

On 15 July 2008, more than 200 people stood outside the Ravindra Kalakshetra on J C Road, holding placards that read 'scrap CVS' and other similar slogans for improper property taxes. This was the scene in a public interaction meeting organised by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to discuss issues relating to property tax assessment and the vexed Sakrama law.

Citizen Interaction at Auditorium

Citizen interaction proceeding in a crowded auditorium. Pic: Author.

Present in the meeting were R Ashoka, Transport Minister, Katta Subramanya Naidu, excise and IT BT minister and Shobha Karandalaje, minister for Rural development and Panchayati Raj. Along with them were S Subramanya, Commissioner BBMP, H Siddhai, Commissioner, BDA, Dilip Rau, ex BBMP Commissioner and other officials and MLAs.

Earlier this year, the BBMP had attempted to implement both the capital value assessment (CVS) scheme for property tax and the Sakrama scheme for regularising unauthorised constructions. Citizens had risen in protest against the both the schemes; they stated that public opinion was never taken into consideration. BBMP wanted to bring in CVS to increase its tax collection.

The gathering of citizens stood with endless questions and unrest in front of the auditorium even before the meeting started. People were pointing implementing CVS or Sakrama would increase more corrupt practices than solving them. Many property owners will be forced to pay lakhs of rupees as property tax under the capital value system (CVS) as against Rs.10,000 being paid under the annual rateable value(ARV) based system, they said.

Katta Subramanya Naidu with R Ashok and Shobha Karandalaje

Katta Subramanya Naidu discussing with R Ashok while Shobha Karandalaje looks around. Pic: Author.

"We just want them to scrap the CVS scheme and Sakrama, that is the only way this government can sustain. It is sheer fooling the citizens by coming up with unclear policies," said N S Mukunda, President of Citizens' Action Forum. He also said that the meeting itself is a productive step and hoped that it would bring good results.

However, the fact that people were given entry only on invitation was not liked by anyone and after a lot of argument entry was open for all. "If it is an interaction session with the public then how can they call on invitation, what is the basis of the invitation, who decides whom to call?" questioned Mukunda.

Citizens and residents association members had started gathering from 9am itself. The meeting began at 11.00am; it was originally slated to begin 10.30 am. The citizens wanted to welcome the ministers with placrads and wide participation. The hall was full when the meeting began. Residents' welfare associations who were eager to put forth their suggestions and express their anger on the property tax assessments.

As is conventional at such meetings the ministers and officials sat on stage. Citizens took turns going to the podium to raise their questions or grievances. Not all could get a chance to put their views in front of the ministers. To all those who expressed their concern, R Ashoka responded by saying that he will take into consideration all the suggestions of the citizens.

"I have opposed CVS even before election with different residential welfare associations. My stand has not changed even now," he added.

There were suggestions to introduce the Annual Rateable Value (ARV) system throughout the state by amending the relevant provision law. The discussion mainly happened around CVS, and a lot of residents suggested that such discussions be held in assembly constituencies as well. The ministers agreed.

On Sakrama, Sujatha Bhaskar, president, South Indian Women Entrepreneurs Association, Indiranagar said, "I was the first one to start the protest against Sakrama on M G Road. I am glad that at least there is awareness and people are raising voice against this."

There were many doubts in citizens' minds. "Why do the BBMP or the BDA and other civic bodies not have any details of all the property under its jurisdiction and why 60 per cent are not under assessment of taxes?" asked one of agitated citizens to the BBMP Commissioner Subramanya. The BDA was also accused of failing to meet the demand for allotting sites, which has led people to buy revenue sites or sites in unauthorised layouts.

Citizen Interaction at auditorium

Citizen interaction proceeding in a crowded auditorium. Pic: Author.

Similar questions kept pouring in throughout the meeting. "CVS is going to increase corruption," said Sajjan Raj Mehata, President, Karnataka Hosiery and Garment Association who is in favour of scrapping the policy.

Minister Katta Subramanya Naidu though pacified the citizens by saying, "We would not have convened this meeting if we wanted to introduce CVS." The politicians were patient in listening to the grievances and suggestions. They promised to revise the Sakrama scheme and also even reduce the rates of the capital value.

People were satisfied by voicing their opinions and getting feedback from the ministers. As goes for all such meetings, even this time while there was positive feeling at the end of the meeting, citizens will have to wait and watch.

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