Threaten Action If Legislation Not Revoked1 April 2011
Srinagar: A day after the state Assembly gave its nod to the controversial legislation imposing tax on commercial and residential properties in the state, stakeholders Friday described the move as ‘anti-Kashmir’, urging the Government to revoke the legislation forthwith or face extreme steps. “The legislation to impose tax on properties is completely unethical and an anti-Kashmir move. We oppose it tooth and nail and urge the state Government to revoke it forthwith or else face action,” said senior members of the Kashmir Economic Alliance-an amalgam of traders and industry bodies, at a press conference here. “It will cripple the already crippled economy of the state. The implementation of the legislation will not be in the interest of the Government or the people.” As per the legislation, 10 percent tax will be levied on all commercial properties, 4 percent tax would be imposed on residential properties falling within the Municipal Corporations of Srinagar and Jammu. However, lands up to 10 marlas and residential construction thereon is exempted from tax. In Municipal Committees only commercial properties will be charged tax with maximum ceiling up to 3 percent. The commercial properties in Municipal Councils will be charged upto 7 percent while residential properties up to maximum of 3 percent. Siraj Ahmad, who led the KEA press conference, accused the state Government of pursuing anti-people and anti-Kashmir policies. “When we read the property tax news, it came as a shock to us. How can the state Government pursue such anti-Kashmir policies despite being well-versed with the fact that our economy is in shambles and we are not able to expand our business? Instead of coming forward to compensate the loss that we suffered in the past 20 years in general and three years in particular, the state is taxing us by imposing such harsh legislations,” Ahmad said. Ahmad condemned what he called “this irrational approach” of the state Government in dealing with people. “God knows what will happen to people with such anti-people legislations,” he said. “On one hand, New Delhi and state Government acknowledge that Kashmiris are downtrodden vis-à-vis economy, but on the other, they try to further cripple this economy. If imposing harsh laws is a way to strengthen our economy, then God save us.” The KEA demanded a rethink on the legislation. “Government must come clean on what it wants. Does it want to destroy Kashmir and Kashmiris?” Ahmad asked, threatening to take “extreme steps” if the legislation was not revoked. “The Governor of the state must not sign the legislation keeping in view its anti-Kashmir nature.” Sensing “regional discrimination” in the legislation, Ahmad said it is seen that in Jammu people own land of five to 10 Marlas “which has been exempted from tax.” “Therefore it is an anti-Kashmir legislation,” he said. “The Government wants to crush Kashmiris and their economy.” In response to a question, Ahmad said they have all reasons to feel that “this legislation is being implemented for political reasons.” “We certainly feel that it is aimed at making Kashmiris more dependent rather than self-reliant,” he said, when asked if the legislation was being implemented in the backdrop of 2010 unrest when people survived despite curfews and strikes for months together. Ahmad said Kashmiris are not in a position to pay the property tax. “The economy of Jammu and Ladakh is better than that of Kashmir. Lakdah has income tax exception which should have been the case with Kashmir,” he said. “We are not against development of any region, but let there be equal treatment meted to all the regions.” He said people might have been paying property tax earlier when their economic condition was that sound. But, he said, today it is not possible. “Government of Jammu and Kashmir must heal the wounds of Kashmiris rather than rub salt on them. They must stop such anti-Kashmir practices like diverting Valley funds to other places, which is ethically unfair,” he said. The KEA said the state Government should have pleaded before the central Government to compensate the loss that people suffered in the past three years. “Instead, banks knock at the doors of people for repayments. They take full interest notwithstanding the sufferings of the people,” he said. Another KEA member, Iqbal Tramboo, said Government of India was responsible for unrest in Kashmir as it was “not seriously addressing the issue of Kashmir.” Government has to have people-friendly policies,” he said. “Legislations are not made for influential or rich people, but for common masses. This property tax legislation will seriously affect a common man.” The KEA said they have learnt that the state Government was going for a hike in power tariff. “How is it justified when people don’t get electricity? In winters we have seen terribly erratic power supply,” Ahmad said. PUT LEGISLATION ON HOLD: KCCI The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry believes that the controversial property tax legislation “tantamount to bulldozing everything in the state.” “The state has been passing through critical conditions for the past two decades when almost all sectors of the economy, particularly the tourism sector, have crippled,” said a KCCI spokesman in a statement. “The people are hardly able to meet their both ends. They are not able to pay routine electricity tariff, water tax and other legitimate dues, not to talk of paying the property tax.” The spokesman said even the poorest people in the state have small dwellings on over 10-12 Marlas of land. “So it will be hardly possible for them to bear any extra burden of the property tax when they have no regular income of livelihood,” he said. “The Government is already seized of the problems that people face irrespective of their status. The amendments passed with regard to the imposition of Property Tax in rural-urban areas for both commercial and residential purposes are an anti-people.” The KCCI urged the state Government to put the legislation on hold and debate it with the stakeholders. CIVIL SOCIETY REACTS Is there more to the issue of imposing tax on properties in Jammu and Kashmir than meets the eye? If stakeholders are to be believed, the state Government has taken the decision in the backdrop of 2010 unrest when people in the Valley survived for months together amid curfews and strikes-something which has allegedly been a constant worry for the power corridors. “I think imposition of property tax is to be seen in a particular context. The real estate is the only sector where people in Kashmir had started investing money to earn their livelihood or keep some property for their children. Once you talk of imposing a harsh tax on property, you are automatically chocking this investment,” said a former bureaucrat, insisting not to be named. “You are taxing people for living in your own house, which is a necessity in Kashmir. And then you can’t tax people this way in times of rising inflation and economic downturn in Kashmir. That is an anti-people move.” According to the observers, the decision is being taken after the 2010 unrest which saw people in Kashmir “surviving despite five months of curfews and strikes.” “I see the legislation as yet another attempt to choke the economic strength of the Valley,” the bureaucrat said. A member of the Dr C Rangarjan panel on jobs in Jammu and Kashmir, Shakeel Qalander, calls the legislation as a disaster. “This imposition of properties tax will further strangulate our economy. The construction engineering is the only sector where people find their jobs and enterprises find their products selling,” he told Greater Kashmir, when asked to respond to the legislation. “This construction area is one where a lot of skilled force gets its livelihood. I think it is irrational to go ahead with such a decision without discussing it with stakeholders, with the civil society. That should have been done before the issue was taken to the legislative Assembly.” Qalander said, “I think the bill will be a disaster for the Government if it is implemented. “The Government should put a stop on it and discuss and deliberate what actually they intend to do. They have kept it too vague with regard to tax slab. If people have to pay 10 percent and 4 percent of property cost as tax, it would be a big disaster and nobody is going to pay it. On the contrary the Government shall have to bear consequences. It will have adverse economic, political and social ramifications,” he said. He said to own a house or a commercial space is a necessity in Kashmir. “The Government cannot term it as a luxury. Given our social and environmental set up, you can’t tell people to live on footpaths. And if someone is earning livelihood through business, they must be encouraged,” Qalander said. People feel the legislation must be debated before being implemented. “There are many people who don’t earn much but possess ancestral property. How would they pay this tax?” asked Shafiq Ahmad, a Government employee.