The Punjab Vidhan Sabha on Wednesday passed a legislation imposing an annual property tax on the immovable assets falling in urban municipal limits across the state.
The Punjab Municipal (Amendment) Bill, 2013, was passed by voice vote after a debate lasting more than an hour and a half in which the opposition Congress dubbed the move as "anti-poor".
The legislation binds householders to annually pay Rs 50 per square yard for the structures built on an area below 50 square yards and Rs 150 per square yard for the structures on an area between 51 and 100 sq yd.
The tax will be 3% for the self-occupied non-residential buildings, 1.5% for the self-occupied industrial buildings and 10% for the non-residential buildings under the occupation of tenants.
Local government minister Anil Joshi introduced the bill, inviting uproar by the opposition Congress, who demanded a review of the entire draft legislation, considering the interests of the poor families and the "double tax structure".
SAD's Daljit Singh Cheema, during the debate, said the government had introduced the property tax as the UPA regime at the Centre had made it mandatory for the states that wanted the flow of funds under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewable Mission (JNNURM).
Ashwani Sekhri of the Congress countered Cheema's argument that the funds under JNNURM for Punjab had already lapsed for the year 2012-13 in the absence of any such condition like imposing the property tax in cities. Sekhri said the JNNURM funds for the fiscal 2013-14 were yet to be finalised and, thus, there was no such "hurry for the state government" to draft the property tax bill "in a hush-hush manner".
Leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar expressed doubts over the legitimate utilisation of the revenue collection under the property tax, highlighting that several crores of rupees meant for the municipal bodies across the state was still pending in light of the poor civic amenities.
Balbir Sidhu of the Congress said the government gave no room to the public to express and convey their objections and apprehensions over the "draconian bill".
Sidhu said the ordinance with regard to the property tax was already passed and, thus, the debate on the issue in the assembly was eyewash.
The opposition also termed the same collector rate for all the floors in a group housing residential complex as unjustified. "The same rates for all the floors are not justified," said Brahm Mohindra of the Congress.
Local government minister Anil Joshi, in his reply to the debate for the passage of the bill, said the state government had kept the interests of the poor urban people in mind while drafting the property tax policy.
"This (imposing of property tax) is the task given to the state by the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre," the minister said.
A different stand
Former minister Manoranjan Kalia, the BJP MLA from Jalandhar, sprang a surprise by opposing the bill on the argument that the same collector rate for the new and older buildings could not be justified. "How can we assess the same value for the buildings built 40 years ago on the basis of area only," he asked.
Four other bills passed
The Punjab assembly also passed four other bills that included Punjab Cooperative Societies (Amendment) Bill, empowering the cooperation department to appoint managing directors of the cooperative societies from among the bureaucrats, instead of the elected representatives from within the societies.
The bill on cooperative societies was passed by voice vote amid strong opposition by the Congress. The Opposition argued that this would defeat the autonomous structure of the cooperative societies.
Similarly, another key draft legislation passed on Wednesday was The Punjab Water Supply and Sewerage Board (Amendment) Bill, 2013, empowering the state government to appoint the chief executive officer of the said board from among the IAS and PCS officers, replacing the cadre post of managing director.
The other bills passed in the assembly included Punjab Municipal Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2013, and The Punjab Municipal Corporation (Second Amendment) Bill that also related to the imposition of property tax.