Special Correspondent

COIMBATORE: The Coimbatore Corporation is in a fix over the Vacant Land Tax (VLT) issue as councillors insist that a uniform rate must be levied. They allege that confusion has been created by the civic body over a circular issued by the State Government in October last year, suggesting square feet rate for levying the tax.

The circular had said that the new rates could take effect on October 1, 2009, but did not state what rates were to be levied on lands purchased/registered prior to that day. The Corporation's lack of clarity on this aspect now caused confusion, according to the councillors.

The Corporation Council saw a long drawn-out discussion on this issue at its recent meeting. Councillors of various parties wanted the Corporation to take up this issue with the Government and get the ambiguities removed.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) member and Corporation North Zone Chairman C. Padmanabhan said on Monday: “We have asked for a uniform rate for 13-and-half half-yearly instalments of the tax to be levied.”

Prior to the issuing of the circular, the Corporation collected one per cent of the value of the land mentioned in the sale deed. The tax was applicable on vacant lands meant for the construction of houses, commercial establishments or industrial units. Lands meant for agriculture were exempted from the tax. The tax had fetched Rs. 10 crore a year for the Corporation, the councillor said.

Now, the circular said 13-and-a-half instalments of the tax, calculated on a half-yearly basis, could be collected with effect from October 1, 2009 based on the square feet rates. “We want no confusion over this and the Corporation has sought 10 days to sort it out,” he said.

Communist Party of India member K. Purushothaman said: “The issue has been needlessly confused. The circular says that 13-and-a-half instalments of the tax have to be collected with effect from October 1, 2009. When this is the case, why should we ask the Government what system is to be applied on lands registered in 2005?”

Mr. Purushothaman said if anyone who had bought a site for construction in 2004 or 2005 approached the civic body for tax assessment now, it should be straightway done for 13-and-a-half half-yearly instalments on the square feet rate basis fixed by the State Government. The civic body should not confuse itself and others by asking what rate should be applied for the months or years prior to October 1, 2009.

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam councillor P. Rajkumar also said that only a uniform rate would remove the confusion over the tax issue.

All applications for VLT assessment were not being cleared by the Corporation because of this ambiguity, he said. The public also were confused over the amount they had to pay.

In some cases, Property Tax assessment was done by the Corporation only if the building owner had paid the VLT for the house site. Now, the confusion of the tax rates would only hold up applications for the Property Tax assessment also, Mr. Rajkumar explained.

These problems cropped up because Government Orders on such important matters were not discussed in the Council. “We come to know of the problems only when people complain of these to us,” he said.

Referring to the walkout by the CPI (M) and Communist Party of India members at the Council meeting, Mr. Padmanabhan said it was against the Corporation's move to privatise the maintenance of new fish market and bus stand.

“We are against handing over a public facility entirely to one private party in the name of maintenance,” he said.

In the case of the fish market, the parties feared that the small and marginal traders who operated from the old market for years would not be allocated shops as the private operator would monopolise the contract option and offer shops to those who could pay hefty sums.

If sanitation was the issue, the Corporation should engage an operator, he said.