The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's (BMC) proposal to collect property tax from every slum dwelling in Mumbai has stirred up a heated debate.
What makes the civic body's proposal so controversial among activists and groups working in the city's slum communities is the fact that the BMC has said that paying this tax will not grant legal status to any slum.
Many activists have opposed the idea of slum dwellers having to pay property taxes, on the grounds that there is no sign of any civic governance, or planning, in the slums.
Sandhya Iyer, faculty member, Centre for Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) said: "Economically, taxation is supposed to be a redistribution of wealth. Instead of taxing the poorest of the poor, the BMC should introduce progressive taxing of the rich and elite. A lot of these slum dwellers do not even qualify for paying income taxes. How can they be expected to shell out property tax?"
Leena Joshi, who is heading an ambitious TISS project for preparing a blueprint for the M-East ward, which contains one of the largest slum pockets in the city, said the idea was unfair. "The BMC needs to make it clear whether it plans to use these taxes collected from slums specifically for their improvement. The civic body cannot let them live in the conditions that they do, after asking them to shell out taxes."
National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) activist Simpreet Singh, who has been working extensively in slum communities, however, welcomed the proposal. "At face value, this doesn't seem like a bad idea. These taxes should be linked to the augmentation of civic services. After having collected these taxes, the BMC's obligation towards providing basic services to these slums increases manifold."
Deputy municipal commissioner (tax reforms) Prakash Patil said, "When approved, we will devise methods which could lead to strong implementation, especially from commercial establishments in slums."