In an apparent bid to retain power in the country’s richest municipality, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray made several promises to Mumbaikars Thursday. Among other measures, he announced total property tax exemption for residential units measuring up to 500 square feet and concessions for houses up to 700 square feet, besides a free medical care scheme named after the late Bal Thackeray.
The sops are part of the party’s election manifesto. Polls to the 227-seat Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will be held on February 21. The slew of announcements was evidently targeted to win over the lower and middle class voters. The decision to reveal part of the manifesto at a time when pre-poll alliance talks are on with the BJP has come as a surprise to many within the party and outside. The haste to disclose populist decisions is perceived in the Sena as a move to pre-empt the BJP from taking credit for housing and health care policy reforms.
Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar, however, said the proposal to waive property tax for houses up to 500 sq ft was already mooted by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis six months ago, and that the BJP had already incorporated it in the party’s election manifesto. (See Page 7)
“We have also decided not to allow tax collection for roads. The BMC earns Rs 500 to 600 crore from road tax. But why should people pay for roads that are dotted with potholes,” he said. Thackeray skirted the issue of a pre-poll alliance, saying the BJP’s proposal had not reached him yet and that he would reflect on it later.
Announcing the poll manifesto before the declaration of candidate list was a clear departure from the usual practice. By highlighting its contents at this juncture, Thackeray, it seemed, seized the opportunity to connect to the people ahead of the polls. He also promised generous property tax concessions to housing societies pursuing rainwater harvesting projects, if voted to power.
The Sena, which has been ruling the BMC for the last 19 years, emphasised that its measures were for larger public welfare. “The Sena will implement all the decisions,” said Thackeray. “The BMC has a budget of Rs 37,000 crore and deposits of Rs 51,000 crore, which makes it financially robust and capable to bear the additional expenses,” he added. It may be mentioned here that the BMC had adopted new tax rules from April 1, 2015, effecting a hike of 40 per cent in tax rates for all residential units, including those measuring less than 500 square feet, and commercial places including the ones that came up before March 31, 2015.
The evaluation of property tax was earlier changed from rateable value system (RVS) to capital value system (CVS). Calculated on the market value of the property, CVS has helped mobilise up to Rs 10,000 crore for the BMC.