The Councillor raj in Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) during the Left Front regime, which had led the oldest civic body in the country to lose crores of rupees in revenue, is a classic example how the CPI(M) had destroyed government institutions to fill up its own coffer.
To establish its control over Kolkata, the CPI(M)-led state government brought the Kolkata Municipal Corporation Act 1984, introducing the mayor-in-council (MIC) system and incorporating three areas – Jadavpur, Behala and Garden Reach, known as the added areas in KMC parlance – under the jurisdiction of KMC.
Earlier, the KMC had 100 wards, termed as ‘proper Kolkata’, and 41 new one were added, taking the total number of wards to 141. However, three more wards have been added and now KMC has 144 wards.
The revenue in the 41 added areas is higher than the revenue earned in other 100 wards, which has caused some worries. However, if the Unit Area Assessment (UAA) method is introduced in the current financial year, the revenue collection of KMC from the added areas would go up.
CPI(M) leaders thought even if the party did badly in the Kolkata civic poll, all the 41 wards in Behala will be under its council. The KMC election, with the new mayor-in-council system, was held in 1985 and Left Front and Congress got 70 seats each.
The Left Front ended up forming the board with the help of KP Ghosh, a Left Front backed independent councilor. Sovan Chatterjee, the current mayor, was elected from Behala and was the youngest Councillor in 1985.
After coming to power, the CPI(M) ordered rampant filling up of water bodies in the added areas and allowed demolition of one or two-storeyed residential buildings in the colonies of Jadavpur, Baghajatin and its neighbourhood to make room for apartments.
Also, unchecked illegal construction began in Kolkata, particularly in central and south Kolkata.
Two additional floors were constructed regularly, flouting the sanctioned plan, and money was distributed among many Councillors, a section of police officers and building department officials.
However, KMC’s revenue was badly hit by the buildings that came up in the added areas. The buildings did not have sanctioned plan and the civic authorities also could not impose property tax in the added areas. Nirmal Mukherjee and Sunil Chakraborty, who were mayors-in-council, had tried to regularise the buildings that had come up in the colony areas by imposing fines. But the Kolkata district committee of CPI(M) raised objections and the scheme failed to yield results.
First, Kamal Bose, from 1985-1990, and then Prasanta Chatterjee, from 1990-2000, tried to impose property tax in the added areas. The officials of revenue department were sent to Behala in the 1990s, but were soon assaulted.
Behala was looked after by Ashesh Roy Mazumdar, a powerful CPI(M) leader. An employee of KMC, he used to run a parallel administration. The KMC’s office at Jadavpur was Kanti Ganguly’s fiefdom.
Senior KMC officials said between 1985 and 2000 the KMc lost revenue to the tune of thousands of crores.
The financial crunch faced by KMC in 2000 could not have risen at all had proper assessment of the buildings in the added areas was done properly and the sanctioned fees were received from there.