The bankrupt Alappuzha municipality, which failed to pay salaries to its employees last month even with Bakrid and other festivals around, has decided to try its luck at mopping up a extra funds from the supposedly rich houseboat sector.
A move that has already been met with stern opposition from the houseboat industry, the final decision on imposing tax on houseboats will be taken shortly with the municipal think tank drawing out necessary bylaws, apart from leafing through the pages of the Panchayat Raj and Nagarpalika Acts to fish out laws that might support their decision.
The new tax proposal is expected to be included in the budget for the next fiscal.
The reasons that the municipal authorities list out for the new tax include the argument that nearly half of the 600-odd houseboats that operate on the scenic backwaters of Alappuzha are docked in the Punnamada finishing point, with most of them having pickup and alighting points in the municipal area.
The houseboats, as of now, do not have to pay the municipality anything.
At the same time, what is to be done with houseboats that operate from nearby panchayats such as Muhamma, Kainakary, and others is troubling the municipality.
There are houseboats that do not have fixed docks and are of the group that roams between Kumarakom and Alappuzha.
A decision on how taxes will be extracted from them is pending.
Meanwhile, houseboat operators say that this is another attempt to rip them off.
“There is a general notion that all houseboat owners are minting money, when the truth is that most of us are still struggling to repay loans. Moreover, we already have to shell out hefty amounts to the government for canal registration, licence, pollution control certificates, and as luxury tax and service tax. Any additional tax is going to be the last straw,” cautioned Jomon Konnackapally, general secretary of the All Kerala Houseboat Owners' Association.
The municipality, and those who extract taxes from the houseboat sector, he feels, should instead concentrate on improving the basic infrastructure for the industry and for tourists.
The municipal authorities, on the other hand, assert that more taxes will ensure more facilities.