Consensus Eludes Govt On Property Tax

Consensus Eludes Govt On Property Tax

21 August 2013
Greater Kashmir
Arif Shafi Wani

Srinagar: With the senior National Conference (NC) leader and Minister of Finance Abdul Rahim Rather ruling out levying of Property Tax in Jammu and Kashmir, lack of consensus over the contentious tax regime in the coalition government has come to fore even as the Property Tax Board already stands constituted. “The government has no intention to impose Property Tax in the State. The issue has been raised without any authentication. No such tax will be imposed,” Rather told a Srinagar based newspaper. Rather even went a step ahead by saying, “some newspapers under the influence of some political parties are trying to malign the image of government ahead of the forthcoming Assembly elections. I wonder where from these news reports come from. In past, NC governments have repealed such taxes in the State in the interest of masses,” he further stated. However, in contrast of Rather’s assertion, the state cabinet recently constituted the State Property Tax Board for levying property on residential and commercial properties. Senior Congress leader and Minister for Housing and Urban Development Nawang Rigzin Jora said that Property Tax Board has been constituted to get Central funds for development of the State and maintained that “levying Property Tax is a political decision which government will take at a suitable time.” In view of varied statements of Rather and Jora on the issue, political observers believe there is lack of consensus in the government. “As the Property Board has been already constituted the government sooner or latter would have to start the process levying property tax. Government cannot constitute the Property Tax Board just as a formality to access central funds. If this is the case, the government is hoodwinking the central government as well the people,” the observers said. The difference of opinion on the Property Tax also came to fore when the Property Tax Board Bill was passed by voice vote in Legislative Assembly on March 31, 2011. Besides, main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), National Panthers Party, independent legislator from Langate Er Rashid and importantly some coalition legislators including Vikar Rasool of Congress, and Mir Saifullah and Nazir Gurezi of National Conference had also opposed the Bill and even staged a walkout from the House over the issue. At that time the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti had stated that the Bill was not in the interest of the common people. However, surprisingly, PDP has maintained “meaningful” silence on the constitution of Property Tax Board which has been mandated to study property tax models in different states and come up with recommendations to the government to assess and levy tax on properties in municipal corporations, committees, and councils. Under the property tax law, it is proposed that upto 10% tax would be imposed on commercial and four percent tax on residential properties falling within the limits of Municipal Corporations of Srinagar and Jammu. In Municipal Councils, commercial properties would be charged up to 7% and the tax on residential properties would be a maximum of 3%. In Municipal Committees, only commercial properties would be taxed upto 3%. People and traders in Kashmir have already voiced their resentment against the proposed property tax regime, terming it a political measure aimed at putting financial burden on them. Economic experts have questioned constitution of the Property Tax Board. They term it a futile exercise in absence of basic data on housing in the State. Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (G) Syed Ali Shah Geelani has termed the government’s move to levy Property Tax as “part of a conspiracy to weaken Kashmiris economically and suppress the ongoing movement for right to self-determination.”