Saturday, Oct 30, 2004
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By Sujay Mehdudia
NEW DELHI, OCT. 29. Call it a game of one-upmanship or politics of appeasement, it has torn apart the progressive new Unit Area Method (UAM) scheme of property tax in the Capital, raising fears that collections could hit a rock bottom and fall well below the expected levels. Although the system was conceived with the noble idea of replacing the existing outdated legislation, the constant tampering, a seemingly endless slew of concessions and re-categorisation of hundreds of colonies on purely political considerations have left the entire implementation process in disarray.
Interestingly, upset with the manner in which the whole issue was handled by the Anomalies and Hardship Committee which doled out the concessions like hot cakes, the MCD Assessor and Collector, Feroze Khan, had put in his papers recently. Only a few days ago the MCD House passed a resolution deleting the clause in the Act that prevented any further re-categorisation of the colonies across the Capital. According to observers, the Anomalies and Hardship Committee headed by K. Dharmarajan has made a mockery of the whole process by unleashing concession after concession under pressure from various quarters including political and indulging in wholesale re-categorisation of colonies. Interestingly, what is most shocking is that Mr. Dharamarajan was the chief architect of this new legislation and he himself has been instrumental in tearing it apart bit by bit.
The Act is only six months old and the number of amendments and re-categorisation of colonies carried out in it has left everyone connected with the implementation of the new law surprised. The constant tampering with the various provisions of the Act is likely to have an adverse impact on the tax collections that are surely going to be far below expectations compared with the previous year level of Rs. 920 crores. It has to go to the credit of the Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, and the MCD Commissioner, Rakesh Mehta, who were the main force behind this new Act and ensured that it gets off within a given time frame. However, since its notification from April, the Act has been turned and twisted a number of times resulting in creation of an uncertain atmosphere.
On the other hand, the industry and the commercial establishments are already up in arms against the new tax categorisation and have even threatened not to pay their house tax in protest. The industry has been slapped with six times increase in tax rates that they allege is totally unjustified. It is understood that Mr. Mehta has been unhappy over the manner in which the Act has been amended time and again but has been unable to voice his concern publicly.
The maximum re-categorisation has taken place in the East Delhi colonies followed by Outer Delhi and New Delhi Parliamentary constituencies. Interestingly, the re-categorisation of the colonies was done in a haphazard and unscientific manner with even the Anomalies and Hardship Committee members getting concessions for their own areas blatantly.
"The new legislation should have been allowed to work for at least a year or so before making amends. However, those who worked hard to put in place this Act have themselves been in the forefront of tearing it apart. It is an unfortunate situation that should not have taken place," a senior official remarked. For instance, the Committee member and Congress Councillor, Sanjay Puri, managed to get his posh Janakpuri area downgraded to the same category as Chandni Chowk. Mr. Dharamarajan managed to get his own area of Sarvapriya Vihar in South Delhi re-categorised three times indicating the kind of politicisation that had taken place within the Committee that was supposed to carry out a professional job.
"The total tax collections will stand somewhere around Rs. 600 crores of which Rs. 200 crore is expected from the stamp duty collections. It would be great if the authorities are able to touch even the halfway mark of the last year's collections as far as house tax is concerned. There are still a number of problems that remain to be addressed, but unfortunately the Sheila Dikshit Government is indulging in blatant politicisation of the Act," the BJP Councillor Vijender Kumar Gupta, remarked.
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