Fearing Backlash, Govt Delays Property Tax

Fearing Backlash, Govt Delays Property Tax

31 August 2013
Greater Kashmir
Umer Maqbool

Srinagar: Facing widespread criticism over the proposed constitution of Property Tax Board in Jammu and Kashmir, the State government is caught in a catch-22 situation over setting up of the body, which was cleared by the State Cabinet two weeks ago. The State government, according to reliable sources, has put the vetting of SRO for establishing the Board on hold despite the outgoing Commissioner- Secretary, Housing & Urban Development Department, Jeet Lal Gupta making all-out efforts to get the notification cleared before his superannuation. On August 16, the State Cabinet cleared the appointment of Gupta as chairman of the Board while as retired Law Secretary Farhat Tasneem and another retired bureaucrat, who has served as Commissioner-Secretary Revenue, Kachoo Isfandyar Khan, as its members. Sources told Greater Kashmir that after being pointed out by General Administration Department that a notification has to be issued for establishment of the Board, the Housing & Urban Development Department prepared an SRO and sent it to Law Department. “But the vetting of the SRO has been kept on hold in the wake of apprehensions expressed by some senior ministers of the coalition that such a decision would cost them politically during upcoming polls,” sources said. According to them, Jeet Lal Gupta, who retired today, reportedly used all efforts and good offices during the last some days to get the notification cleared, but the Law Ministry stood the ground and did not budge from its stand. “The Law Minister wants to consult Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who was outside the State, before approving the file,” they said. Sources said that many senior ministers of the ruling alliance are of the view that they shouldn’t damage their poll prospects ‘just for rehabilitation of some officials.’ “The issue would come handy for the opposition to take on National Conference and Congress during the upcoming polls, particularly in Srinagar and Jammu cities where the rates of property tax is proposed to be higher,” they disclosed. As per section 3(1) of the JK Property Tax Board Act, the government may, by, notification, establish, for the purposes of the Act, a Board to be called the Jammu and Kashmir Property Tax Board. When contacted, Law Minister Mir Saifullah said the subject was under discussion. “The file pertaining to the Board has come to my office but I am yet to go through it,” he said. Jeet Lal Gupta, however, said there has been unnecessarily delay in getting the notification vetted. “The government has to implement the decision of constituting Property Tax Board as it has been cleared by the Cabinet,” he said. Pertinently, the government’s decision to constitute the Board evoked widespread criticism with general masses and leaders terming it a measure aimed at putting additional financial burden on people. 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 move to levy Property Tax as “part of a conspiracy to weaken Kashmiris economically and suppress the ongoing movement for right to self-determination.”