AAP-Karnataka alleges trade licence scam in BBMP

BENGALURU: The Karnataka unit of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Friday alleged that a trade licence scam was perpetrated in the BBMP, causing a loss of hundreds of crores to its coffers. Releasing the RTI replies to their query on the number of commercial properties in the city and the tax collected from them, Shivakumar Chengalraya, state co-convener of AAP, said corrupt BBMP officials who were pocketing the money were to blame.

The BBMP replies revealed there were 33,986 commercial establishments licensed by the Palike for 2016-17, a reduction from the 41,075 trade licences issued in 2015-16. Property tax collection from these 33,986 properties totalled Rs 30,85,02,995. However, Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom) replies to AAP queries showed there were 6,15,509 commercial power installations in the Bengaluru Metropolitan Area, prompting the party to conduct a social audit to confirm the discrepancy.

“Our volunteers surveyed nine wards and counted the number of shops on each street. We found the number far exceeded the figures quoted by BBMP. On the basis of the audit, we estimated there were four lakh properties across all 198 wards. As per BBMP’s data, the establishments pay tax on an average of Rs 9,500 per annum, which when calculated amounts to nearly a Rs 400 crore loss,” said Chengalraya, accusing corporators, taxation standing committee members and the mayor of being in collusion.

With the licence renewal window set to expire in a month, AAP demanded that the entire process be made available online. Alleging the process of licence application and renewal was not smooth, AAP alleged it was also a way for corrupt officials to extort money from property owners. Vijay Vithal, member of AAP’s RTI cell, claimed BBMP was not abiding by the provisions of the RTI Act.

“As per Section 4 (1)(b) of the act, government organizations are required to host data regarding the work done by them. Last December, all genuine data was removed from the BBMP website. Some wards registered less than Rs one lakh in revenue collection. Even the number of choultries (marriage halls) and party halls on paper doesn’t match the reality,” he alleged.

 ‘Can’t tax outlets in residential areas, will seek probe’
M K Gunashekar, chairman of the BBMP standing committee on taxation and finance, said as per a high court order, the Palike is not allowed to tax commercial properties in residential areas. This is why the discrepancy may have arisen, he said.

“Those properties are classified as unauthorized, so how can we tax them? The trade licence process was made digital to reduce corruption and not to encourage it. But as per the guidelines, officials need to visit the site to ensure the particulars provided are accurate,” he said, adding he would write to the BBMP commissioner and the minister concerned to initiate an inquiry into the matter. Gunashekar, however, said illegal commercial outlets will be closed and BBMP has already initiated the process.

Responding to the fact that Bescom registered nearly six lakh commercial installations, Gunashekar said commercial properties serviced by the power utility could be essential services like dhobis allowed in residential areas, and these activities are not illegal.

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