My property “did not exist”, said the clerk

Sakuntala Narasimhan had assumed that one would never encounter any roadblocks when one wants to pay-up. She was wrong.

By mid-April I was becoming allergic to the calendar. “Don’t look at the date”, I told myself. The April 30th deadline for paying property tax was approaching. "There are no forms available at the Sanjaynagar centre yet", said a friend.  "I downloaded the form but they refused to accept it because it doesn’t have the acknowledgement form," said another (Why doesn’t it have an acknowledgement form? Good question.)

With just a week left, I decided to pay up, and “be done with it”. That morning’s newspapers said some Assistant Revenue Officers (ARO’s) were being authorised to collect property tax. So I went to the Jayanagar BBMP office at 2.15 pm, ensuring that I should not bother them during lunch hour.

A staff member welcomed me politely, offered me a chair and then asked me which ward I come under. I answered, 60, and also mentioned that my voter’s list slip, however, says it is 168 (Pattabhiramanagar  ward). After making a call, he directed me to the BBMP centre at Byrasandra. “It’s too far to walk, take an auto,” he added helpfully. I reached there at 2.45 pm.

“They open only at 3.30 pm,” those waiting in a straggling line under the afternoon sun said. True enough, there was a notice on the window, saying “Working hours, 3.30 to…”. If only I had known this before leaving my house!

3.30 pm, then 3.35 pm, the staff were still inside, the window remained resolutely shut (last year, at least we were allowed to wait inside the building). A grey haired old man looked for a wall to lean on, a working girl kept looking at her watch (she had taken a half-day off), my chikungunya-affected knee was hurting, and there was no shade. One old woman just squatted on the muddy ground.

Existential question

The window opened, we lined up with our forms. When my turn came, the assistant fed details into a computer and announced that my property “did not exist”. (So, do I exist, or don’t I? Existential question, worthy of Sartre). I have been paying tax for the last 18 years.

After my previous year’s acknowledgement receipt which I took along was checked, my application was however, not rejected (they don’t tell you to take it along, but I had, anticipating such hassles). Do I put the old ward number or the new one? I asked. “Put the old number, next year put 169A as the new number,” the man from behind the window said. But my voter’s slip says 168? I said. “Ah, bidi,” an old man advised, “Worry about that next year.” Those waiting in line behind me fretted, because I was holding up the queue.

I asked him if the digit in my previous year’s receipt is a 0 or an 8 (the stamping was hazy). His answer was classic — “Put whatever is on the receipt”. In this age of computers and core banking facilities, why can’t we pay our tax at the nearest centres? Why can’t we be warned that these centres work only from 3.30pm? Why can’t the staff collect door-to-door as they used to, during the 90s?

After all that, the papers now say (on April 30th) that the deadline “may be extended”. “May”, not “Will”. Why can’t the BBMP make up its mind, to help the citizens?

One citizen has a form with duplicate numbers. “It is possible,” the corporation admits.

Can I say, “It is possible I forgot to pay tax last year and get away with it?".

My friend forgot to xerox the forms before submitting, and is now worried about problems for next year. (Next year, another friend points out with cruel glee, we will have to re-calculate all over again, using fresh forms.)

Why do we need to load ourselves with niggling worries like these, in this age of technical sophistication when the corporation can check details without our having to produce previous two years’ forms?

“Because the corporation employees do not make proper entries, so we need to take extra trouble to protect ourselves,” explains a senior citizen, who is paying for three persons because the others are employed and cannot take leave to pay up. Why don’t they make proper entries? Yet another question in search of an answer.   ⊕

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