Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has assured the people of Jammu and Kashmir that property tax will be implemented in consultation with them.
His assurance came on Saturday (February 25), a day when the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) took out a protest march in Srinagar even as divisional commissioner VK Bidhuri tried to justify the move, saying it would ensure better civic facilities for people.
Sinha, too, defended the decision, saying property tax would ensure financial self-sustainability of cities and help improve public amenities.
The J&K administration on Tuesday ordered the imposition of property tax in municipal areas from April 1, drawing strong protests from people from almost all walks of life. Political parties have demanded an immediate rollback of the order, while organisations like the Jammu Bar Association have threatened to intensify the agitation.
Lowest in country
According to the government notification, the tax rates will be 5% of the taxable annual value for residential properties and 6% for commercial properties. The administration has repeatedly stated that these property tax rates are the lowest in the country.
“Implementation (of property tax) shall be done in consultation with the general public. Common citizens’ interests will be protected,” Sinha said. “Citizens’ welfare is the foremost priority of the government, and property tax will ensure financial self-sustainability of cities and improvement of public amenities in the union territory,” he added.
“Our cities must witness rapid development and emerge as engines of growth. For that, financial self-sustainability of cities is necessary. Property tax in J&K will be one of the lowest in the country and will be used for improving public amenities in J&K,” he added.
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Sinha had on Friday criticised those opposing the move, saying, “We want every facility but are not ready to pay for anything…those who can pay for the services are also not interested in paying. They have money to buy iPhones, internet data packs for playing video games but are not ready to pay the taxes.”
Main source of revenue
Earlier on Saturday, the Valley’s divisional commissioner Bidhuri said J&K was the last of the states and UTs where property tax had been enforced. He was accompanied by Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) Commissioner, Athar Aamir Khan.
Bidhuri explained that property tax was the main source of revenue for urban local bodies. “It is a progressive tax and not imposed uniformly across the spectrum. Poor people will not have to pay tax like the rich who have more assets,” he said.
He also pointed out that the tax was being imposed only in urban areas and not in rural areas. “Agricultural land is exempted from it. A residential house up to 1000 square feet is exempted. So, one-third of the population in the J&K is already exempted. The tax rate is very low as compared to other states/UTs,” he added.
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Bidhuri also said the tax has to be paid once annually and the money will get deposited in the account of the municipalities. The collected amount will be used to ensure better facilities for the people, he added.
In the morning, the PDP took out a protest march to demand a roll-back of the decision. Dozens of PDP activists led by Suhail Bukhari, its chief spokesperson, took out a protest march from the party headquarters near Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Park. They raised slogans and tried to march towards the Lal Chowk city centre, but were stopped by police near the Traffic Headquarters.
Bukhari later claimed to reporters that the government was trying to weaken the people of Jammu and Kashmir economically. “First, our political rights were taken away. Then democracy was buried here. Poor people were harassed in the name of demolition and their houses bulldozed. Now the property tax. The economic situation in Jammu and Kashmir has worsened in the past five years. There is no employment; the industrial sector is weak,” he said.
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Instead of holding people’s hand, “the BJP government is trying to further the troubles of the people,” he added.
Political parties in J&K have demanded a roll-back of the order and asked the administration to put it on hold for a few years in view of the economic situation.
(With agency inputs)