CIVIC SENSE In a meeting on Monday, senior officials of the Corporation of Chennai called for a renewed drive to collect as much as Rs. 750 crore in property tax for 2012-13 from owners of more than 10 lakh properties.

In a meeting on Monday, senior officials of the Corporation of Chennai called for a renewed drive to collect as much as Rs. 750 crore in property tax for 2012-13 from owners of more than 10 lakh properties.

Corporation’s Revenue Department officials are likely to urge residents to pay the tax in the coming months. The civic body is however cautious that it does not take steps that may bother residents in its pursuit of higher tax collection. Residents may not refuse to oblige, but officials at the grassroots continue to be concerned that many key challenges are not addressed yet.

The foremost among the challenges is the failure of the civic body to set up adequate infrastructure including computers for officials involved in property tax collection at the grassroots level.

Even though the civic body has a system in place for improved property tax collection, the existing facilities are inadequate for reaching a target of Rs. 750 crore in the first year after expansion of the city limits. The data on existing number of personnel on the rolls of the civic body’s Revenue Department too paints a grim picture.

The steady rise in new property tax assessments in the past few weeks is a welcome sign. Yet these indicators are not sufficient to give hope on successfully tackling the problem of under-assessment in many areas including the newly-added zones. Unless the number of employees on the rolls of the corporation’s Revenue Department is increased, the goal of making property tax collection hassle-free for residents will not be attained. The civic body may have garbage clearance and roads as its priority, but the failure to notice that the revenue department is ailing may make matters worse in the long run for the city.

One of the indicators of an ailing Revenue Department is the delay in implementing new modes of payment of property tax. The civic body is yet to take help from the State government to strengthen its technical units that play a role in using cutting-edge technology for such purposes.

Nearly ten lakh assessees were expected to use a simpler system to pay property tax through 405 bank counters. But the banks are yet to start accepting money, cheques or demand drafts for property tax payment even though the Chennai Corporation announced such a facility a few weeks ago.

The civic body initially launched a similar walk-in payment facility on a trial basis in 2003 in the old city limits but it was not successful due to various reasons. If the Chennai Corporation has taken nine long years to solve a simple property tax-related problem and is still struggling to cope with it, then there is an urgent need for introspection on the existing system.

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