Am I paying taxes to get killed?

Bengaluru is beset with rotting garbage, killer potholes and increasing dengue cases. Yet the BBMP is planning a steep hike in property taxes. So should we pay?

Nowhere around the world do residents pay to get killed – not even in the worst mafia or terrorist-infested city.

Correction – there is one city. Known earlier as pensioners’ paradise, garden city, and then IT city, it is now ‘garbage city’. Residents here fall ill and die because the taxes they pay for ‘services’ like garbage removal deliver nothing in return.

A news report in Deccan Herald this August 15th said, ‘563 new dengue cases in four days’, and 5006 cases overall since January. This translates to over 600 cases per month, or 20 per day.

The dengue-causing Aedes aegypti mosquitoes breed in water. Pools of rainwater, covered with rotting trash, are stagnating along Bengaluru’s roads. Deaths due to dengue have been reported from Ramanagara, Chitradurga and Dakshina Kannada too. But Bengaluru, the ‘IT city’, tops the list of dengue victims, with six fatalities. So what do we have a ‘municipal corporation’ for? Remember Surat and its plague outbreak?

At the entrance to my apartment in Jayanagar, south Bengaluru, is a pile of trash two metres high, with dry leaves and sundry trash rotting and festering in stagnant rainwater along the road. It has not been cleared for over a month. On the other side of the road, at the base of a transformer outside the post office, the pile of garbage is higher – almost mountainous, with huge rats and bandicoots running over it even during the day.

The rats cross the road, and gnaw through the teakwood door at the entrance to my home. When I spoke to the pourakarmika, she initially said it was the tempo’s job to remove the muck – but no tempo came for days. She sweeps garbage from the rest of the road and adds it to the pile outside my door.

When I spoke to her again a week later, her reply was, “It is like that all over the city.” I sent a complaint to the Commissioner, BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike), and got a reply directing me to another email ID. But nothing happened afterwards.

I then sought help from a citizens’ media initiative, but was told that “since there is  no government (this was before Yediyurappa took over), we have to wait to approach the local corporator/MLA.” Again, nothing happened. In the meantime, the pile of garbage grew. The rats grew fatter. It is revolting.

Can BBMP demand higher taxes?

I pay my property and other taxes to the city corporation whose job it is to keep the city clean. Now there is a move to add ‘road tax’ to the already existing beggary cess, solid waste management cess, labour and library cess etc. The municipal corporation now also wants to hike property tax by a whopping 25 percent for residences. Its mantra seems to be, “Keep paying, else pay penalty – but don’t expect anything in return…”

A DH news report of July 23rd says, ‘Dengue spirals within city, BBMP wakes up to spurt in cases’. So it wasn’t as if the corporation was taken unawares. Over 442 cases were registered just that one week in July. A month later, residents are still exposed to infection and death. And this is after we pay our dues to BBMP?

How about suing BBMP?

If I pay for a service and don’t get it, I have valid grounds to complain and claim compensation. An award-winning activist from abroad who was visiting Bengaluru, is appalled and incredulous. “Why don’t you sue the corporation?” he says, looking at the stinking mess literally everywhere.

The last time I tried suing, nothing happened. I ended up spending money on attending endless adjournments, and finally gave up. I am a senior citizen who relies on a walking stick.

BBMP’s corruption continues unchecked

No less a person than the former Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, said in a meeting once, “BBMP is a den of corruption.” Not a day passes without the media reporting some scam or the other, at various levels of the corporation. Nothing happens. The corrupt pocket their lakhs and crores, and the top man gets transferred periodically (I have preserved correspondence with six commissioners of BBMP, no less. And nothing came out of those.)

It is not just garbage. Pavements are in such atrocious condition that residents break bones walking on them. Broken or missing slabs, uneven surfaces, piles of muck removed from sewers – you name it, you find it every few steps. Potholes on roads are another scandal – I once mentioned this at a meeting and was told, “It is due to rains”.

Then how are the roads around the chief minister’s residence and judges’ bungalows smooth like an airport runway? Doesn’t it rain in those areas? The High Court ordered BBMP, “Act on potholes or lose mandate” and even gave a deadline of December 2017. It would be a good joke, except that a few hundred citizens still get injured or killed thanks to potholes. The corruption runs deep – in awarding contracts, paying for shoddy jobs without supervision, passing inflated bills at taxpayers’ expense.

What can citizens do?

Even the High Court’s warning hasn’t spurred authorities into action. Does BBMP exist to extract money from hapless Bengalureans, or to provide services? A precedent exists, as per a judgement by the Tamil Nadu Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, that unsatisfactory municipal services do come under the Consumer Protection Act.

There was a move some years ago, by citizens groups, to refuse to pay enhanced taxes too. Is it time for citizens once again, to muster strength in large numbers – after all, there are 1.25 crore of us – to say, “Enough is enough, deliver or else..”?

Who knows, dengue may be waiting for me around the corner, thanks to the piles of garbage outside my door. I paid my property tax, but that does not mean the corporation acknowledges any accountability. I pay, for nothing. And could get killed, for no fault of mine….

Comments:

  1. Ravi Menon says:

    When BATF with its ignorant corporate profiteers as members banned dustbins in Bangalore over a decade ago, they took imbecility to a new low. It is not too land to disband this dimwitted cohort and do two things:

    1) Bring back large community dustbins with compartments marked for dry, wet and plastic waste. They have the funds so long as they don’t embezzle them by creating scams to that effect.

    2) Purchase the dustbins and the trucks with automated crane arm chasses which lift the dustbins up, dump them into the truck and place the emptied bins back — all in 5 minutes. The truck-dustbin combo comes as a single purchase kit. Check out Noida, Surat, Chennai — these Indian cities are role models in garbage disposal and treatment. No shame in this.

    3) Clean up the garbage bins on a daily basis. They have the funds so long as they don’t embezzle them by creating scams to that effect.

    4) Cut the pourakarmika part-time workforce by 40%, and stop the employment scam incubated by BATF at taxpayer cost, which many Bangaloreans are still not wise to. These pouras do only dushkarma, karma is at a discount, while garbage is in surplus mode.

    5) Most important, take a trip to Surat or Chennai (not Germany or Norway) and a tutorial from the municipal corporations there on solid waste management. The ego won’t hurt as the returns will be immense.

    BBMP can definitely do the above if they have the will to clean up their stables and make the corrupt ‘Contractor Raj’ a thing of the past.

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