JAMMU: The imposition of property tax in Jammu and Kashmir has kicked off a major uproar cutting across all the usual and ever-so-sharpening political, regional and communal divides.
While the common man on the street is triggered, the responsible leaders of political parties, who are aware of the legal position, have their responses tailored in view of the background that today’s chaos has forgotten.
The BJP is clearly at the receiving end of the public anger in Jammu region. Every other party, including its tacit allies, are BJP’s public rivals and hence miking the most from the anger.
Unlike Mehbooba Mufti, three of the four former Chief Ministers have not described the taxation as illegal. They just want it to be deferred to the democratically elected government. Of the three, Omar Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Azad are the two who know their regime, not Manoj Sinha’s, was the first to get into business of taxing the properties. Here is the story
The Story of Rs 388 Crore
The saga of property tax in Jammu and Kashmir began around 2010 when the 13th Finance Commission charted out its plans for the next five years. The thirteenth Finance Commission had stipulated that Jammu and Kashmir would be eligible to draw down its share of the general performance grant pegged at Rs 388 crore for the years 2011-2012, 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15, only if the State Government is able to comply with certain conditions.
These conditions included enabling all the local bodies to levy property tax for all types of residential and commercial properties and removing any hindrances in this regard. Another condition was setting up of a state level Property Tax Board, which will assist all municipalities and municipal corporations in the state to put in place an independent and transparent procedure for assessing property tax.
The board was tasked to enumerate all properties within the jurisdiction of the municipalities and corporations and provide for a suitable basis for assessment and valuation of properties upon which the latter would collect the property tax. This tax board was entrusted with the responsibility of making recommendations relating to at least 25% of the aggregate number of estimated properties across all municipal corporations and municipalities in the state by 31 March 2015.
The government in the year 2010 brought Jammu And Kashmir Municipal Laws (Second Amendment) Bill, 2010, to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Act, 2000 and the Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Corporation Act, 2000, by introducing the provisions of Property tax.
The First Attempt
The National Conference- Congress coalition government in the year 2011 put out a draft of The Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Corporation (Property Tax) Rules, 2011, where in it had proposed the imposition of property tax on residential and commercial properties in the twin capital cities of the state. The draft rules provided for self-assessment of the properties’ value by their owners/occupiers and payment of property tax on that value. To evade undervaluation of the property and consequently the tax paid by the occupier, the government wanted to resort to the method of random scrutiny, wherein officials would select 10% of the returns filed every year for random scrutiny.
CLICK HERE TO READ: Draft Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Corporation (Property Tax) Rules, 2011
In the same year, The Jammu And Kashmir Property Tax Board Bill 2011 was introduced in the legislative assembly but could not be passed. While introducing the bill, the government had referred to the recommendation of the 13th Finance Commission.
CLICK HERE TO READ: The Jammu And Kashmir Property Tax Board Bill, 2011
“Among other things, it aims at achieving uniformity and transparency in property tax assessment in all the Urban Local Bodies in the State and to introduce professionalism in the valuation of properties,” the then Minister, Housing And Urban Development Department, had said in the assembly.
However, the plan was shelved due to the stiff resistance of the opposition parties and simmering public resentment.
Two years later, the property tax board became a reality. The Jammu And Kashmir Property Tax Board Act, 2013 received the assent of the Governor on 24th April, and was published in the Government Gazette the next day.
Separatists, Public Anger & Elections
In June 2013, the government started giving final touches to its proposal of imposing property tax in the winter and summer capitals of the state, even as there was strong opposition from the people of the state. In August 2013, Jeet Lal Gupta was appointed as the head of the first property tax board with Farhat Tasneem and Kachoo Isfandyar as its members.
While the Municipal Laws Amendment Bill was pending before the joint select committee of Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council, the Housing Department wanted that the property tax board members are sent to different states to study property tax models there and come up with recommendations for the government.
CLICK HERE TO READ: The Jammu And Kashmir Property Tax Board Act, 2013
The anger within public was growing and the separatists in Kashmir had also threatened to launch state wide agitation against the move, leading to second thoughts within the Omar Abdullah-led government.
A young Mir Saifullah, handpicked by Omar to look after law and parliamentary affairs earlier that year, could sense the pulse of the public and held the file for months altogether, and is believed to have informed Omar of the political repercussions for National Conference. The elections were due in 2014 and the NC, obviously was not willing to take the risk, and hence, the plan was shelved, yet again.
2014-2020: The years of change
The property tax story was soon buried. This could not save National Conference and Congress in 2014 election which witnessed an unprecedently skewed mandate, leading to BJP and PDP coalition government.
The saffron party pulling the rug under Mehbooba Mufti’s feet in 2018 triggered a series of events for Jammu and Kashmir, which eventually lost its statehood and was reduced to a union territory, with Ladakh now separated from it.
Before the abrogation of Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir was exempt from property tax. However, with the implementation of the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019, the MHA empowered the J&K administration in 2020 to impose property tax by invoking Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of Central Laws) Second and Third Orders, 2020.
The 136-page-long notification issued by MHA on October 5, 2020, amended the Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Corporation Act, among others.
“Unless exempted under this Act or any other law for the time being in force, property tax shall be levied on all lands and buildings or vacant lands or both situated within the municipal area. The property tax shall be levied at such a percentage not exceeding fifteen per cent of the taxable annual value of land and building or vacant land or both, as the Government may, by notification, from time to time specify,” said the amended Municipal Act, thus initiating the process which finally reached its desired end earlier this week.
Reactions in J&K
Barring BJP, all the major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have targeted the Lieutenant Governor administration for imposition of property tax in the Union Territory.
CLICK HERE TO READ: Notification for Property Tax in Jammu And Kashmir
Terming the move as “anti-people” and “undemocratic”, Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti said the decision was part of the BJP’s larger agenda of impoverishing the people of J and K. Mehbooba called upon the people to resist and refuse to pay the tax.
National Conference demanded immediate rollback of the notification, saying the decision was an “anti-people” move.
“Why should people in J&K pay state taxes including the proposed property tax when we have no say in how our government is run & no say in the decision making of J&K. We are expected to be mute spectators to all unjust decisions by Raj Bhavan,” said Omar Abdullah.
DPAP chief Ghulam Nabi Azad urged the UT government to put on hold the imposition of property tax for a few years as the economic situation in Jammu and Kashmir has deteriorated over the last three decades due to terrorism and people are not in the condition to pay tax.
CPI(M) leader Mohamamd Yousuf Tarigami said the process of collecting taxes and deciding their values is the sole prerogative of an elected government. The levying of property tax in the absence of an elected government is unconstitutional, he said.
People’s Conference president Sajad Gani Lone accused the government of perpetrating economic euthanasia in Jammu and Kashmir while Apni Party President Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari termed the decision as ‘anti-people’ and said that it will be reviewed and revisited once elections are held in Jammu and Kashmir.
JMC Mayor Rajinder Sharma said the property tax is a decision of the LG administration and not of the JMC.
He said that the JMC will convene the general house on Saturday to hear the public opinion and will take up the issue with LG Manoj Sinha, besides BJP state and National presidents.
SMC deputy mayor Parvaiz Ahmad Qadri was more vocal in his words, saying the proposal will be rejected in the corporation. “The proposal has to be first passed by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation. We are rejecting it even before its arrival. It won’t get consent of corporators. People should not panic,” he tweeted.
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The Jammu chapter of Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association suspended its work against the imposition of property tax on Thursday.