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Property tax: Who is cheating whom?

CITIZENS NEVER fail to complain when it comes to corruption that plagues them in almost every government or semi-government office. But there is a variety of corruption where both the citizens and the government servants allegedly cheat the municipal bodies and deprive the honest taxpayers of their right to the paid-for services.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2006 15:50 IST

CITIZENS NEVER fail to complain when it comes to corruption that plagues them in almost every government or semi-government office. But there is a variety of corruption where both the citizens and the government servants allegedly cheat the municipal bodies and deprive the honest taxpayers of their right to the paid-for services.

Property tax is a victim of one such variety of corruption in which both the citizens and the municipal  staff gang up to cheat the citizens of their right to safe drinking water, beautiful gardens, good roads, regular collection of garbage, well-maintained municipal hospitals and schools etc. But corruption and pilferage of revenue stifle all these facilities: the ever-increasing property tax is one of the outcomes of this corruption.

Though property tax collection has always been in disrepute, the introduction of self-assessment scheme by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) has worsened the situation. Now, the house owners conceal their property tax and the BMC staff allegedly connives at the dishonest self-assessment for a consideration. It amounts to enormous losses to the BMC and should attract the attention of the Lokayukta and the Economic Offences Directorate.

Citizens, including this writer, were ignorant of the fact that even a virgin plot of land, where nothing is constructed, is liable to property tax, and came to know this only when they applied for building permission and NOC from the BMC.

By such time naturally the unpaid property tax accumulates to considerable arrears. But here too the citizens and the BMC staff find a way out: rather than pay the entire arrears honestly, the citizens pay property tax only for the current year; the huge tax arrears of the previous years are unofficially written off and the booty is allegedly shared between the citizens  and the staff.

It is these underhand practices that expose the BMC to chronic paucity of funds and adversely affect its essential services to the citizens.

When confronted, a BMC staffer on the condition of anonymity said that it had been going on for a considerable period, but claimed immunity on the plea that they had to fulfil the demands (farmayish) of variety of influential people that was not possible to entertain in their meagre salaries. I would have dismissed the statement as trash had I not remembered that some years ago a Nuzul Inspector had said much the same thing to an objecting citizen when the official allegedly asked for an extra-official payment.

Again when I bumped into a BMC auditor, he wished that it were possible to audit each and every case thoroughly and bring such complicity to book, but the problem was that there was (he winked at me) an  advertent paucity of auditors in the BMC and therefore the practice continued. 

The BMC should conduct a survey and enjoin upon the citizens to declare on affidavit that they have made full payment towards the property tax along with arrears, if any. Besides, let it be a law that payment of property tax shall henceforth be the sole proof/ criterion to establish ownership of a house or a premise.