MP villages to pay for property, water, sanitation as state invokes old law

Even officials admit that the scheme is facing opposition. Bhopal district panchayat CEO Vikas Mishra said they know it is very tough to impose any tax
The success in a few villages from where sanitation tax is being collected has convinced the MP government that asking villagers to pay for water and sanitation could work. (HT Photo/Representative use)
The success in a few villages from where sanitation tax is being collected has convinced the MP government that asking villagers to pay for water and sanitation could work. (HT Photo/Representative use)
Published on Oct 31, 2021 04:54 PM IST
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As a garbage collection vehicle moves around Intkhedi Sadak village in Madhya Pradesh, loudly playing Swacch Bharat song sung by Kailash Kher, it is a signal for eight-year-old Harsiddhi Saini and her friends to rush outside with buckets full of garbage to be emptied into the loading auto. She may live in a village but her 38 year old father, Brijesh Saini, has to still pay tax for the garbage collection service.

Saini pays 130 every month as water and sanitation tax, introduced two months ago by the village in a gram sabha, for daily collection of garbage from every household in the village. Intkhedi is one of close to 23,000 villages in Madhya Pradesh, where the local panchayat bodies are planning to introduce annual property tax and monthly water and sanitation charges to provide basic civic amenities and drinking water.

Most villages in Madhya Pradesh such as Intkhedi lack the basics with open drainage systems and heaps of garbage everywhere. The source of water in these villages is are hand pumps that do not assure a high quality of drinking water.

Last year under the Central government’s Nal Jal Yojana, people started getting clean tap water in their households and in June this year, MP Panchayat and Rural Development department trained panchayat secretaries to collect water, sanitation and property tax under section 77 A of MP Panchayat Raj and Gram Swaraj Adhiniyam 1993, which empowers panchayats to levy tax and impose penalties, like urban municipal bodies.

Intkhedi sarpanch Leela Bai fixed 100 per month as water charge, 30 per month for sanitation services apart from 200 per lakh as annual property tax, which the panchayat could collect. While the property tax is a fixed rate decided by the district administration, gram sabhas are free to decide the rate of water and sanitation tax as per the Panchayati Raj Act.

The sarpanch’s decision is being opposed by some villagers. Ramesh Meena, who runs a shop in Intkhedi village, asks why should he pay tax for a government scheme. He has support from many in the village.

Sarpanch Leela Bai, panchayat secretary Gulab Singh Mehra and chief executive officer Phanda janpad panchayat, Upendra Parihar, tried to convince the villagers in the first week of August to pay these taxes but residents said they first wanted to see evidence of change.

“The Gram Sabha started cleaning of roads and heaps of garbage and also made an arrangement for door to door collection of garbage and gave cycles to women sanitation workers in August. The panchayat officials have started the supply of uninterrupted clean water. Now, many villagers are convinced and have started paying the tax from October 1,” said Mehra, the panchayat secretary. Out of 400 families, all are paying sanitation tax but only about 300 families are paying water tax leaving those that are below the poverty line. The property tax is yet to be collected.

A village’s self-help group member Radha Meena said, “We put in a lot of effort to convince villagers to pay sanitation and water tax but they are yet to be convinced to pay the property tax as they feel that it has no benefit. We are convincing them that under SVAMITWA Scheme, they will get property rights and correct valuation of the property. We are seeing a change in the attitude of villagers but it will take time.”

IMPLEMENTATION

The success in a few villages including Intkhedi where 100% people have started giving sanitation tax has convinced the MP government that asking villagers to pay for water and sanitation could work. It has now started training of secretaries of 23,000 panchayats to collect money for providing basic amenities to every household. The training started in June and is still going on in several places. Till now, MP government officials said, 10,000 village panchayats have imposed sanitation charge and property tax and 16,000 villages have introduced a water charge from September.

“We have just implemented the monthly charge to make villages self-reliant,” said Umakant Umrao, principal secretary, Panchayat and Rural Development department. While payment of the tax is not optional, the state government has asked gram sabhas to exempt families under the poverty line, and those that express an inability to pay can be excused. Gram Sabhas can take a decision on waiving off their tax.

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Umrao said that during the second wave of Covid 19 pandemic, panchayats imposed a fine of 28 lakh across the state for violation of guidelines such as social distancing and wearing of masks in the villages of MP. “That made us realise that panchayats of MP are getting empowered and can generate funds to become self-reliant. Facing a shortage of funds, we asked panchayats to use their power under the Panchayat Raj Act to impose taxes in a phased manner,” he said.

Explaining the scheme, Umrao said in the first phase, fully developed villages will be asked to impose all three taxes while others will be asked to impose any one or two charges as per the services being provided. “If SVAMITWA survey (being done for property evaluation) has been completed, panchayats can come up with property tax. If they get 100% tap connection under Nal Jal Yojna, they can impose water tax and as per cleanliness, they can impose the sanitation tax,” he added.

In Madhya Pradesh while 100 per cent of villages have been declared open defecation free (ODF), the last National Family Health Survey (NFHS) revealed that only 19% have sanitation facilities. 16,000 village panchayats have household tap connections under Nal Jal Scheme and in 3000 village panchayats, survey of properties has been completed.

OPPOSITION

The government plan, however, is being opposed as many villagers feel the villages still lack basic amenities including roads, sanitation and water supply, and therefore, hold the monthly taxes to be unjust.

Meherban Gurjar, the sarpanch of Ramha Village, 35 km from Bhopal, said, “When most of the population is poor and get a kg of ration for 1 or 2 then how can we ask them to pay 50 or 60 for other services. We have imposed the system but I am not convinced enough.”

According to the MP statistical department, about 36% of the rural population is below the poverty line, significantly exceeding the urban poverty rate of 21%. Similarly, according to the NFHS, only 79% households in rural MP have access to drinking water while only 19% have access to sanitation.

In Jhaliwada village of under developed Balaghat district, sarpanch’s husband Chander Warwade points out that the villagers have an issue of trust as they feel that the government failed to provide basic infrastructure like roads in the past. “For them, the question is how will the taxation change the ground situation? They are opposing it tooth and nail.”

Even officials admit that the scheme is facing opposition. Bhopal district panchayat CEO Vikas Mishra said they know it is very tough to impose any tax and that’s why they have asked sarpanchs and panchayat officials to pressurise only warehouse owners, affluent farmers and people having a farm house for recovery of tax.

“By using their money, we will develop villages and later we will start compelling others to pay. This will create trust among not so affluent villagers,” he said.

Mishra said this plan has worked out and in the past two months, they collected more than 1 crore as water, sanitation and property tax from 187 panchayats in Bhopal.

However, Congress leaders attacked the state government for silently introducing taxation system in rural MP.

Congress MLA Kunal Chaudhary asked if the government was going to introduce all the taxes provided for in the panchayati raj law. “The BJP-led state and the Central government are putting additional burden on the people through taxation to run development projects. They took this decision when the rural economy was in dire straits due to Covid 19 and people were suffering,” he said.

One expert said the state government should first win the trust of people before imposing additional taxes.

“This is true that there is a provision in the act as well as in the Constitution that local bodies can create their own fund for the development work by imposing taxes but it shouldn’t be done without winning the trust of people. The rural economy is in bad shape. The villages don’t have basic infrastructure like proper roads and health facilities, leaving alone civic amenities. When people are facing so many troubles, how can we expect them to pay tax,” said Sachin Jain, convener Vikas Samvad.

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Sunday, November 28, 2021