Officer’s arrest on bribery charge brings focus on transparency in Coimbatore Corporation

The arrest on bribery charge of Coimbatore Corporation’s North Zone Assistant Commissioner K. Ravi Kumar by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption on Monday has brought into focus the issues of corruption and the role of touts in the civic body.

The DVAC's charge against Mr. Ravi Kumar is that he, through his agent, Balakrishnan, had demanded ₹15,000 from a person who wanted his newly constructed house assessed for property tax.

Sources familiar with the functioning of the civic body say that this is not new. There are three areas where the public face corruption in the Corporation – for getting building plan approval, for assessing newly constructed building for property tax and obtaining water connection.

Surveyors as touts

A former elected representative of the Corporation says on condition of anonymity that a few licensed building surveyors turn touts by taking money from the applicants to pay off officials for early approval of the building plan. Agreeing with this charge, a licensed building surveyor says the system has become so corrupt that applicants specifically seek a few surveyors known for securing approval this way. A perusal of the list of approved plans will show who they are, he says.

The surveyor further says that as a part of the process of building plan approval, applicants are required to submit survey sketch, for which they will have to approach the Corporation's surveyors, and many of them use the opportunity to demand bribe.

The second area where corruption flourishes is in getting newly constructed buildings assessed for property tax. Citing the case where the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption arrested a Corporation bill collector and an assistant revenue officer on charges of receiving bribe in June 2018, the sources allege that many revenue wing officials in the Corporation’s five zones do not issue property tax books unless the applicants grease their palms.

Coimbatore Consumer Cause secretary K. Kathirmathiyon says there have been instances of officials attempting to dupe applicants by demanding bribe to under assess their property for tax. It was after a few such instances that consumer organisations prevailed upon the Corporation to have a provision on its website where applicants can calculate the tax for their building by entering a few details.

The third area where public face corruption is while getting water connection. Here plumbers turn brokers by “taking care” of the paper work as well, the sources say.

Mr. Kathirmathiyon says if the civic body is serious about checking corruption and bringing about transparency, it should adopt the DSOP (distribution standards of permission) system that the Tangedco follows.

Fix time limit

The Corporation should fix a time-frame for building plan approval, assessment of buildings for property tax or release of water connection, and clearly state that if the officials fail to give approval within the specified time, it becomes deemed approval.

The Corporation should not stop with this but also penalise the officials concerned by asking them to pay a certain sum on a daily basis to the applicants.

As for the building plan approval, the licensed building surveyor says the Corporation should reintroduce the system of online processing that was in practise a few years ago. At every stage of approval, the Corporation sent SMSes to applicants and so completely automated the process that neither the licensed building surveyors or applicants had to go to the Corporation to “see” the officials concerned.

Online solution

Asked about the steps the Corporation plans to take to check corruption and bring about transparency, a senior official says going online to reduce face-to-face interaction between applicants and officials is one way of reducing allegations of corruption. The Corporation will study the issues to see what can be done and also look at measures taken in the past to see if these can be revived.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 7:55:06 AM |

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