Battle for BMC turns into a freebie war
Even with alliance talks underway, ruling allies Shiv Sena and BJP — in a game of political one upmanship — released partial manifestos on Thursday, dangling freebies to voters and taking swipes at each othermumbai Updated: Jan 20, 2017 00:36 IST
The efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena to forge an alliance for the Mumbai civic polls hit the first major hurdle on Thursday.
Even with alliance talks underway, ruling allies Shiv Sena and BJP — in a game of political one upmanship — released partial manifestos on Thursday, dangling freebies to voters and taking swipes at each other. By evening, the differences became louder with BJP MP Kirit Somaiya commenting that the citizens of Mumbai were fed up with one family’s rule over the city and Sena leaders asking the BJP to restrain its leaders to ensure the talk continue.
In a day of quick developments, it was Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray who first took the press conference and announced the party will exempt property tax for houses with carpet area less than 500 sq and offer a heavy discount on tax for houses up to 700 sqft if it is re-elected to power. The sop is aimed at the middle- and working-class population in Mumbai, who form a majority of the votebank. He also promised free healthcare for all Mumbaiites who do not qualify for any of the state government’s health sops, by launching its own ‘Balasaheb Thackeray Aarogya Kavach’ scheme. Taking a veiled dig at ally BJP, Thackeray said other parties may have caused stress to the public, but the Sena will not do the same. “My announcements will not be limited to elections the way the ‘Acche din’ campaign was. I will implement everything that I have promised,” Thackeray said.
Barely two hours after this announcement, BJP city chief Ashish Shelar claimed ownership of the property tax sop, taking the exemption 100 sqft further, exempting flats with carpet area of 600 sqft. He also announced the cancellation of street tax and rescuing citizens from “tax terrorism” by the Mumbai civic body in a jibe to the Sena, which controls the civic body.
“As far as property tax goes, the BJP had first proposed exempting the tax on properties with carpet area of up to 600 sqft. I had tabled this in the Vidhan Sabha last year and it had been cleared. So we are not opposed to such a move. We have also proposed that Mumbaiites be free of street tax until the state of roads in the city improves,’’ said Shelar.
“The BMC has a budget of Rs34,000 crore and deposits of Rs25,000 crore and despite this, tax terrorism continues in Mumbai. Street tax of nearly Rs500-Rs 600 crore is collected annually even though the state of the roads is shoddy. The BJP is committed to changing this scenario,” Shelar said.
Even as parties competed with each other over freebies, BJP MP Kirit Somaiya trained guns on the Sena chief and his family questioning how long Mumbai would tolerate the rule of one family and one party. He called for a ‘mafiaraj’ free civic body. Somaiya’s remarks to a Marathi TV channel IBN Lokmat came a day after Sena mouthpiece Saamana took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying demonetisation was akin to dropping a nuclear bomb on the country’s economy. Reacting to Somaiya and Shelar’s remarks, the Sena leaders told the media that they would ask the BJP if it was the official stand of the party. Sources said the three Sena leaders participating in the talks—Anil Desai, Anil Parab and Ravindra Mirlekar—had suggested party chief Uddhav Thackeray to have a word with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis over the public comments being made by his colleagues.
The ongoing acerbic charges exchanged between the parties are being seen as part of pressure tactics by both the parties. The seat-sharing talks between the two parties are expected resume on Friday. The BJP has finalised its wishlist of 114 seats, exactly half of the 227 member-BMC and this will be shared with the Sena to take the talks forward.
The tussle on Thursday, however, indicates that even if the allies stitch up an alliance, it will be difficult for them to avoid criticism of one another. And the contest for the leading party in Mumbai or who can wrest the ‘mayor’s slot’ will get played out between these allies turned rivals.
The seat-sharing talks between the saffron allies are likely to continue on Friday with January 21 as the accepted deadline between the two parties.
Earlier, both the parties offered freebies to the voters but did not elaborate on the details of rolling out these freebies. Property tax is the second-highest source of revenue for the Mumbai civic body after octroi duty. The BMC collects about Rs6,000 crore every year in property tax. Street tax is a component of the property tax and the civic body collects nearly Rs500-Rs600 crore through this levy. Significantly, the third major party in the fray in Mumbai, the Congress has already announced that it would provide free water upto 90 litres a person daily if elected to power. It has also promised reduction in property tax.
Currently, those living in houses of up to 500 sqft are exempt from the BMC’s capital value-based system, which links property tax to ready reckoner rates, taking into account the market value of these properties. Houses of up to 500 sqft have to pay a notional rateable value, which is the earning capacity of a property. As a result, property taxes in several areas of the island city are anyway low as rents were frozen under the Rent Control Act.
BJP, Shiv Sena go on a poaching spree