How can Didi blue it, debates Kolkata

Tax relief if houses painted blue & white; lawyers say arbitrary move can be challenged in court, Oppn says will do that.

Written by Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay | Kolkata | Updated: June 13, 2014 1:52:56 am
Freshly painted in Didi’s colours in Bhabanipur, her constituency in Kolkata. (Express Photo: Subham Dutta) Freshly painted in Didi’s colours in Bhabanipur, her constituency in Kolkata.                (Express Photo: Subham Dutta)

Mamata Banerjee wants Kolkata’s houses painted blue and white, her favourite colours. The way her government has set about chasing her vision, however, has come under fire from the opposition and under question from legal experts.

The Kolkata Municipal Corporation, run by Mamata’s Trinamool Congress, has planned an incentive — anyone who paints his house blue and white gets an exemption on house tax for 2014-15. A meeting of the mayor-in-council last week passed this resolution, not covering government buildings, and sent it to the government for approval.
The KMC Act allows a waiver only of interests and penalties on taxes, not of taxes themselves. “If needed we will go for an amendment,” said Firhad Hakim, Minister for Urban Development.

The BJP says it will move court against any such move, and legal experts agree an amendment would face hurdles in court. “It is an encroachment on our aesthetic freedom. And the government will pay from taxpayers’ money to give an exemption to some,” says BJP state president Rahul Sinha. “What about people who think their houses will look better green or any colour? Are we living in a democratic country?” Sinha added.

“This is a Tughlaq-like act; we will fight it,” said CPM leader Suryakanta Mishra, leader of the opposition. Former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, a veteran lawyer, said, “Even if an amendment is made, it can be challenged in court as it would be arbitrary of the government to give an exemption exclusively to house owners who go for blue and white and not to those who opt for some other colour.”

Former Kolkata mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya and former Trinamool MLA Arunava Ghosh, both lawyers, agreed the amendment would run into legal problems. Bhattacharya said: “The move violates the principle of plurality enshrined in our Constitution… If I go for blue, I get an exemption; if I don’t, I don’t get it. No government can make such a discrimination.”

The KMC buildings department has worked out the procedure: the owner of a house sends an application for painting it blue; an assessor arrives and works out the tax; the owner gets the exemption after showing proof that the house has been painted. Why blue “The government’s concept of beauty is blue,” said minister Hakim. “Didi wants to make a colour statement… Blue is the colour of the sky, the ocean, and we want that colour for our city.”

Mamata had made her colour preferences known immediately after she had come to power. Her government has got many state-owned buildings painted blue and white, apart from railings alongside the city’s parks. Minister for Housing Arup Biswas said 37 rental estates where government employees stay, besides 20 government-run youth hostels, have already been painted. The city’s taxis too have begun to go blue and white.

The government is unperturbed by the inevitable revenue losses from a tax waiver.  “The loss will not be colossal. For realising a dream we have to spend,” Hakim said.
Architect Dilip Chatterjee called the move “ridiculous… How can a city’s houses all be painted blue?” Dulal Mukherhee, another architect,  said: “Blue does not suit residential buildings… With colonial-type buildings, blue is not compatible.” Blue vs saffron With KMC polls due next year, the BJP sees signs of panic in the move. “The Trinamool is afraid of our rise and has become desperate,” Rahul Sinha said.

The BJP’s vote share in Bengal rose from 7 per cent to 17 in the Lok Sabha polls. In Kolkata, it was in the lead in 21 of 141 wards, and also in Bhabanipur assembly segment held by Mamata herself. Minister Hakim dismissed any BJP threat: “After getting 17 per cent, they have become dadas,” he said.

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