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Protests against property tax continues in J&K, Jammu lawyers abstain from work

Protests continued for the second consecutive day on Thursday in Jammu and Kashmir against the Lieutenant Governor administration’s move to impose property tax in the Union Territory (UT) for the first time.  

Lawyers abstained from work in courts, including the High Court, Jammu, as a mark of protest. The J&K High Court Bar Association, Jammu chapter, had called for a one-day strike against the decision.

“Such important decisions should have been left for an elected government rather than by the L-G administration. The government should immediately restore Statehood and hold Assembly election in J&K,” Bar president M.K. Bhardwaj said.

The Housing & Urban Development Department on Tuesday invoked the J&K Property Tax (Other Municipalities) Rules, 2023 to notify the rules for levying, assessment and collection of property tax in the limits of municipal councils and committees. It has proposed to impose property tax on residential property at 5 % and at 6 % on non-residential property on the Taxable Annual Value (TAV) from April 1 this year.

Democratic Progressive Azad Party chairman Ghulam Nabi Azad also expressed his opposition against the government move. “We have back-to-back crises in J&K. Not only people feel insecure but economically, the poor are crushed with soaring electricity bills, water charges and now property tax. Forcible imposition of taxes on people amid dwindling economic opportunities is not at all a good idea,” Mr. Azad said.

If voted to power in the elections, he said his party would bring back the Roshni Act Scheme, which benefited thousands of poor people across J&K. “The land of J&K belongs to its people be it Hindus or Muslims, Sikhs or from any other religion, caste. No government has the right to snatch it from the people,” Mr. Azad said. “No government has the right to declare 70% of UT’s population as encroachers,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) has decided to hold a discussion on property tax. “People need to know why and how much tax is to be paid. The government has been telling us that the only way to be independent is by raising taxes. Tax is very nominal,” Baldev Billawaria, JMC, Deputy Mayor, said.

Defending the move, J&K Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta said, “All the poor, marginalised having small houses having built-up area up to 1,000 square feet have been exempted by the government from paying any property tax to be levied from April onwards this year”.

According to a J&K government spokesman, the tax rates introduced are one of the lowest in the country, almost half that of Himachal, and one fourth to one sixth, overall, of other progressive States such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Delhi. “Tax to be paid in Municipal Committees shall be much lower than that of Municipal Corporations. There is no property tax in rural areas. Besides, the property tax is to be assessed and paid on an annual basis,” the spokesman said.

The J&K administration is planning awareness programmes among the public “for removing misconceptions”. “The property tax paid by people shall be used in their own areas. The accumulations of the tax money will be collected by the ULBs, retained by them and used for their development needs exclusively. The tax to be collected from the people shall be spent only for their betterment, improving their quality of life,” Mr. Mehta said.

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