A new notice by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai for revising property taxes have raised serious concerns for housing societies and building owners. Property owners ought to carry out their own valuations of their properties to compute the correct value per flat in order to establish the right dues by demanding a rectification backed by authentic independent professional certification
The heavy demands recently raised by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) have raised serious concerns for housing societies and building owners in the island city of Mumbai. Many of these concerns are indeed genuine, they need to be adequately addressed, the retrospective element being one of them has rightly been challenged in the courts.
Our ALM (Advanced Locality Management—a local area network of citizens) discussed at length with a cross-section of professional members—civil engineers, architects and office bearers of co-operative housing societies (CHS) in an effort to get into the mechanics of working out the extent of damage, if any, at the ground level. Each society/owner was advised to first and foremost record objections by filing them in the format furnished along with the demand.
In going into the genesis of this entire demand exercise, it was pointed out to the members that the civic authorities have hitherto been following the archaic mode of assessing property tax based on rateable value—the assumed value at which the property was expected to fetch when rented out. Now with this revision the actual carpet and built areas are sought to be taxed based on rates applicable as on 1 April 2010—the civic authorities seeking to align the property value to the prevailing going rate in the locality.
These days it is noticed that even a 1 BHK flat owner in this island city is sitting on an asset worth over Rs1 crore, s/he is virtually a crorepati, sure to collect a windfall over the few thousands that was initially invested years back. The MCGM now seeks to collect its share of flesh in this appreciation by levying the tax based on perceived gains of the flat owners.
Admittedly there are errors in the inputs provided, essentially in the basic each flat area from which the entire exercise ought to commence. The usages mentioned may need rectification too.
The ALM felt that the housing society on its own first gets EACH and EVERY flat meticously measured from wall-to-wall to ascertain the actual carpet area. For once, the CHS will be able to ascertain the exact square area of each flat, as in most cases, the areas mentioned are the old/initial original areas taken from the original MCGM building approvals.
It is noticed, in many cases members have subsequently not obtained either the mandatory society and/or municipal approvals for extending/covering balconies/galleries or for breaking down internal walls, all these resulting into increasing the basic sanctioned floor area. Some have been putting residential areas to commercial use. Most of these aberrations that are not even within the knowledge and consent of the society can now be rectified as a result of this exercise.
This, once-in-a-lifetime correction of the actual areas of all the flats, can, in the ultimate analysis, result is a win-win situation for both the members and their societies. Further, another distinct advantage is that in the event of the building/society going in for redevelopment at a later date, this upward revision will go a long way in getting larger flats for each member.
Our ALM advised member-societies to appoint an independent third party professional—a civil engineer or architect of their choice—to carry out this exercise of ascertaining the present flat areas, usage and also to compute the correct value per flat in order to establish the right dues by demanding a rectification backed by authentic independent professional certification. This may be of assistance in filing the objections; it has been left to the respective managing committees of the CHS to take the call on the modus operandi of the filing. This, it must be pointed out, is purely an in-house voluntary exercise to be carried out by each CHS, that has nothing to do with its pursuing other legal avenues like challenging the validity of the demands, etc.
Moneylife Foundation has organised a seminar on the issue on 9th February. It would be addressed by well-known activists, Advocate Godfrey Pimenta and Ashok Ravat.
“Property Owners’ Association” is contemplating to approach the high court and has organised a joint meeting at Yashwantrao Chavan Auditorium (near Mantralaya) on 7th February at 6pm. Their contact numbers are 23853436/ 23841385. If you think the rise is unfair, attached is a sample complaint letter to be submitted to MCGM immediately and forward the message to as many people if possible.
Here is a sample complaint letter…
Complaint under Section 163(1) & (2) of the
Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1888
Name of Complainant :
House No. :
Name of the Building :
Name of the Street :
Pin Code :
Mobile / Telephone No. :
Email ID :
The Assistant Assessor and Collector,
Sir / Madam,
I am in receipt of the special notice bearing No. ------ dated ------- on -------- for property bearing Account No. ------------. By the said special notice under reference, you have purportedly fixed capital value of the said property at Rs.-------- as shown in Annexure A enclosed to the said special notice.
I am making this complaint under Section 163 (1) and (2) of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1888 (“the said Act”), to register my objections to the purported fixation of capital value. I say that nothing stated therein shall be deemed to have been admitted by me unless specifically done so herein. Further, the contentions raised in the present complaint are without prejudice to my rights and contentions that the system of levy of property tax on the basis of capital value is itself illegal, void and without authority of law.
By this complaint, I hereby object to the fixation of capital value and levy of property tax on capital value basis. The levy of property tax on capital value basis itself creates an inequitable distribution of tax and gives unguided powers and authority to the Corporation to levy tax on capital value at future date without referring to changes in the levy of taxes to the elected representatives of the Municipal Corporation.
I further bring to your notice that calculating capital value based on the stamp duty ready reckoner is an incorrect method as the ready reckoner prepared by the government is only for the purpose of determining the market value of the property. Further, it is a settled position in law that the ready reckoner is only a guide for determining the market value of the property and cannot be considered binding or a basis to determine/ascertain the capital value of a property.
You may also note that your special notice, bill and Annexure A thereto have been wrongly served upon the societies and the landlords. You are required to serve the said documents to the tenants and/or occupants who are in actual occupation and possession of the property. Without giving notice to the individual tenants and occupants, the Corporation has violated the principles of natural justice of the tenants and occupants as they have not been given an opportunity to object to the ascertainment and levy of property tax based on capital value.
Without prejudice to my rights and remedies to challenge the said determination of capital value and levy of property tax based on capital value, I am filing the correct details and information in Annexure A of your notice.
I am also enclosing herewith the following documents in support of my complaint.
(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai-based Chartered Accountant turned activist.)
State Democratic parties formed a cooperative to sell the voter data they have collected from supporters. Now they're looking for commercial customers
For years, state Democratic parties have been gathering information about individual voters' political leanings. They have noted down the opinions voters shared with canvassers — which candidates they said they supported or their positions on policy issues.
Now, the record of what people told Democratic volunteers may go up for sale — and not just to political groups. Democrats are looking into whether credit card companies, retailers like Target or other commercial interests may want to buy the information.
State Democratic party leaders formed the National Voter File Co-op in 2011 to sell their voter data to approved groups like the NAACP. The goal was to recoup some of the money local Democratic parties spent collecting and updating their local voter lists, which include voters of all parties.
Much of the data the co-op sells comes from the government and is already part of the public record — information such as voters' names, addresses and party affiliation.
But local Democratic parties also have information about voters' views and preferences collected over many campaign cycles. (We wrote about Minnesota's data-collecting "Grandma Brigade" last month.) Some state Democratic parties have used this raw data to create sophisticated estimates of how likely any voter is to vote for a Democrat, support Barack Obama or have certain opinions, say, on abortion or gun control.
As the co-op moves into its second year of selling data in an already crowded marketplace, it's looking for new potential clients — and companies who may use the data for commercial purposes, as opposed to political ones, are on the list.
"That's one of our growth areas," said Drew Brighton of Target Smart Communications, which helps administer and market the Co-op's data. "Over the next six months, we are going to go ahead and make the rounds with some corporate prospects."
Brighton said retailers, for example, might be interested in figuring out if their customers are primarily Democrats or Republicans. "People want to know who shops in their stores," he said.
Democrats involved with the co-op do not know what companies might be most interested in buying their voter data.
"What the co-op is doing is saying, 'Look, there's a wealth of information here, that could potentially benefit your corporation or your business interests,'" said Ken Martin, a member of the co-op's board, and the chairman of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.
"Everything is on the table, nothing's off the table. It's up to us to figure out what [data] there's a market for, and whether there's a comfort level among state parties for selling that information," he said.
Each state Democratic Party will have the final say over whether to sell their voter information for commercial purposes. If state party leaders aren't comfortable with selling proprietary data to a certain client, they can opt out.
Individual states have different laws about how their public voting records can be used. Many states mandate that public voter rolls can only be used for "political purposes," and some states explicitly ban using voting records for "commercial purposes." The co-op and its clients must abide by these rules.
But state political data laws do not apply to the information about voters that the party itself has gathered.
"Generally, information freely provided to the party by the voter, or data about who participated in a primary [that the party collects] is not subject to any prohibition on it being sold," said Karl Sandstrom, a former vice-chairman of the Federal Elections Commission and an attorney for the co-op.
This means Democrats are free to sell the opinions voters give to campaign canvassers to credit card companies or marketing firms.
Whether they will choose to do this isn't certain. Martin, the Minnesota Democratic chairman, said that party leaders will have to weigh the risks of any potential deal.
"Obviously, we know we could make money off our file, but it always comes back to the question of, at what cost?" Martin said.
He said he would evaluate commercial deals on a case-by-case basis.
"I'm not opposed to selling the data if it's a corporation who shares our values and is going to do some good work with that data."
Wal-Mart, for instance, would not make the cut, he said.
Whether corporations are interested in buying the co-op's data remains to be seen. Wal-Mart did not respond to a request for comment about whether it would be interested in buying information about its customers' political beliefs.
Consumer data companies like Experian already peddle information about individuals' political beliefs and donation histories — and also link this information to their consumer habits. This November, Experian Simmons released a study breaking down the political leanings of shoppers at J. Crew, Lady Foot Locker, and more than 100 other major retailers.
But the fact that selling voters' opinions to companies is even an option for Democrats is another example of how rapidly the data industry is evolving — and how little information individuals have about how their data is being shared.
In his "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights," released last year, President Barack Obama argued that when companies collect personal data from consumers, they should only share it in ways consumers expect.
If a company decides it wants to share personal information in a new way, Obama suggested, it should notify the consumers who are affected and provide them with choices about how their data is used.
Although Obama pledged to work with Congress to make the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights into law, that hasn't happened yet.
Joseph Turow, a privacy expert at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, said the possibility that Democrats might repurpose voters' opinions for commercial marketing is problematic — particularly because they had collected that information through "a relationship of trust" with voters.
Both Democrats and Republicans have long traded information about voters' opinions with outside political groups. Long-time Republican activists have created a new group, the Data Trust, to manage the Republican National Committee's data and coordinate data exchanges between the RNC and conservative and issue advocacy groups.
Asked if the Republican Party sells the party's proprietary data to retailers or credit card companies, RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowsi wrote, "Absolutely not — hasn't happened in past and won't in [the] future."
The Obama campaign's own closely guarded trove of voter information will be used to mobilize support for the president's agenda through a new non-profit advocacy group, Organizing for Action, led by top Obama aides.
It's not clear what other groups may be given access to Obama's voter data. Organizing for Action did not respond to a request for comment. Staffers have said that passing on the campaign's voter information to an Obama-focused non-profit reflects the wishes of the president's supporters, although supporters were not asked directly about how the campaign should treat their data.
Sandstrom, the lawyer for the state Democratic parties' National Voter File Co-op, said he doubted the co-op would actually end up selling voters' opinions for commercial uses, calling it an "abstract concern."
Democratic Party chairs were not eager to weigh in on the issue.
Last week, ProPublica contacted 11 Democratic state party chairs — some of them newly elected to their positions — about the National Voter File Co-op. Party chairs in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin declined or did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
New Hampshire Democratic chair Ray Buckley, who leads the Association of State Democratic Chairs, also declined to comment.
The initiative by the Pune Passport Grievance Forum has received overwhelming response from aggrieved citizens exposing the malfunctioning at the passport office. Since the story is the same throughout the country, let’s build up pressure by filing RTI applications
Our cell phones were constantly ringing yesterday after we announced a press conference that we would be holding the first citizens’ meeting on Saturday, 9th February in Pune, for those who have not received their passports in time. We have formed the “Pune Passport Grievance Forum” to address this issue. The issue is giving nightmares to citizens as their simple right to get passport in 45 days (three days, as promised by TCS—Tata Consultancy Services—but not delivered as yet) is being denied due to mismanagement of the passport office and alleged corruption.
The phone calls also came from cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata where it seems the situation is as bleak. Thus, it is a national issue which needs to be addressed by citizens and NGOs in large numbers, across cities. Let us use RTI (Right to Information) too to keep up the pressure. The ministry of external affairs and TCS, which is in a public private partnership (PPP) venture, must be made accountable to deliver passports in time and without citizens being harassed.
The first step of harassment is: While you have to apply online, the next step of taking an appointment schedule online is the biggest hurdle. Applicants said that they have to open the website for appointment at 3pm but have to wait for weeks or months on end to get the appointment and have been told that bribing could work.
States Rupam Tripathi, a young chartered accountant from Pune who is still waiting for her appointment schedule since December 2012, “I had filled up the online Passport Renewal Forms on the 15 December 2012 for my parents and myself. The next was to get the appointment to go the Passport Seva Kendra. The instructions are to log in at 3pm and take an online appointment. I have tried numerous times to take the appointment at 3 pm. At sharp 3pm I log in to the site, and click on the time slot. Till one comes to the time slot, its good speed, but once you click the time slot, the system buffers for about five minutes and then a message is received that all 650 appointments for the day are given, please try again tomorrow. I wrote to the passport helpdesk but they have sent me a standard reply of continuing to re-try. I am frustrated. I also spoke to couple of people who are in the travel business on how to go about getting an appointment; I was told that on payment of Rs500 the appointment can be obtained. I am not ready to give any bribe as I would like to have the passports through proper channel.’’
The standard reply given by the passport helpline desk to Rupam Tripathi is thus:
“Dear RUPAM TRIPATHI, Greetings! Please note that your request reference ID is 12201187xxxx and the description provided by you is: I have online made application for 3 renewals. ARN nos being 12 000345xxxx, 12 000346xxxx and 12 000346xxxx. I have been trying to take an appointment from the 15.12.2012 and every time I get the response slot not available. Trying the helpline no but cannot get through. Please advice on how to get an appointment. Thanks
Please find enclosed response in this regard as follows:
We request you to schedule a separate appointment for each applicant to visit the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK). Fresh appointments are released at 3 PM. Please refer to the News and Announcements section on home page of our website: www.passportindia.gov.in for availing information regarding schedule of appointments and Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) wise mapping of districts.
Please try again, recheck the availability of slots and schedule the appointment according to the availability of slots as appointments are limited and available on first cum first serve basis. We solicit your cooperation for the same. In case you are unable to schedule online appointment, you may contact the respective Regional Passport Office (RPO) along with the printout of your Application Reference Number (ARN) for appointment. RPO will consider such cases and will give staggered appointments keeping in view the load/capacity at the respective Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) under their jurisdiction. Tatkaal and other urgency applications will be given preference in allotting appointments. The information regarding the same is provided in the Advisory for Applicants available at the lower left corner of the website: www.passportindia.gov.in .
Please follow the below mentioned steps to schedule the online appointment as it is a mandatory process: i) Please visit our website www.passportindia.gov.in ii) Login with your User ID iii) On Applicant Home Page, select your Application Reference Number (ARN) iv) Click the Manage Appointment link. Option for scheduling the appointment is displayed v) Choose the appropriate time from the slots available for appointments vi) An Appointment ID is generated
This is to further inform you that password of the User ID created on our portal expires after every 60 days. This provision has been made keeping in view the security perspective. So, we request you to take print out of appointment details immediately after scheduling the appointment to avoid the inconvenience at a later stage. Please keep the print out of appointment details in safe custody till the date of appointment and carry the same along.”
Subsequent harassments: After the passport applicant gets his scheduled appointment and documents are verified, many a time he does not get his or her passport in the scheduled 45 days and is made to run from pillar to post, in this case from the TCS’ Passport Seva Kendra to the Regional Passport Office to the police office to find out the status of his passport. In such a case, it would help to file a RTI application.
The information you can ask regarding the status of your passport application can be made as follows (two samples are given, you can choose one that suits you best)
The APIO or PIO of your passport office (write his/her address)
Subject: Seeking information on my application for passport under RTI
1. Please provide the daily progress made on my application.
2. Please provide the names and designations of the officers who were supposed to take action on my application and who had not done so.
3. What is the stipulated time frame laid out for generating and delivering a passport?
4. What is the stipulated time frame laid out for replying to query/information sought by applicants?
5. As the status stands now, how much time more is required by the RPO to generate and deliver my passport?
6. What actions would be taken to ensure the above?
(The above sample is courtesy Vijay Kumbhar, a Pune based RTI activist who had taken up the passport campaign in 2007 and now.)
Kindly provide me with the following information requested under the purview of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Regarding: Reasons for the Passport Delay
File Number: ____________ and Year _______
Place: xxx (Passport Office)
Particulars of information required: As per list mentioned below list of information requested
1. Daily progress made on my application till date of your reply.
2. Names, designations and office addresses of the officials with whom my application was lying during this period and date-wise period with each official and action taken by him/her.
3. Please give evidence of receipt and dispatch of my application in the offices of each of these officials.
4. Please inform me, according to your rules or citizens charter or any other order, number of days in which such a matter should have been dealt with and resolved. Please also provide a copy of these rules.
5. As the officials have not adhered to the time limit mentioned in rules and are guilty of violating these rules please give a copy of their conduct rules and details of action taken by the RPO against erring officials.
6. In case no action has been initiated for dereliction of duties against erring officials, the reasons be made known to me.
7. Please inform me name of the police station/dept to whom the application was referred for police verification with outward number, date of dispatch and date when reply was received by you. Photocopy of letter addressed to the police for verification and proof of mailing be submitted to me.
8. Please let me know when I am likely to receive my passport.
9. Please inform me days taken by your office in issuing/renewing passports in the last 25 applications excluding days required for police verification.
10. Please inform me number of complaints for delay in issuing/renewing passports was received against your office in last one year or last financial year.
Please inform me name of the police station/dept to which application was referred for police verification with outward number, date of dispatch and date when reply was received by you. Photocopy of letter addressed to police for verification and proof of mailing be submitted to me.
Find the application fee for the request attached with this application. If you feel that above requested information does not pertain to your department then please follow the provisions of Section 6(3) of the RTI Act, 2005/Also as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 please provide the details (Name and Designation) of the First Appellate Authority w.r.t to your department with the reply to the above request., where I may if required file my first appeal.
I do hereby declare that I am a citizen of India. Kindly provide me with the information at the address/email id mentioned with the application. I request you to ensure that the information is provided before the expiry of the 30-day period after you have received the application.
(Name of applicant)
Address of Applicant, Other Contact Details
(The above sample has been taken from www.rtination.com which has been proactive in helping citizen file RTI applications. http://www.rtination.com/rti-applications/18-passport/3829-delay-in-passport-issue)
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)