Partial Shutdown in Jammu to Protest Imposition of Property Tax

The shutdown call was issued by Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) and trade bodies as a “symbolic” protest against the property tax imposition in J&K, allegedly without consultations with the stakeholders.

Srinagar: A partial shutdown was observed in Jammu on Saturday, March 11, against the imposition of the property tax in the union territory amid a bandh call by regional traders and businesses which was supported by National Conference among other political parties.

The shutdown call was issued by Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) and trade bodies as a “symbolic” protest against the property tax imposition in J&K, allegedly without consultations with the stakeholders.

The bandh call has also been supported by some political parties such as the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party and Congress, as well as local traders’ associations in Jammu and prominent civil society groups, said JCCI chairman Arun Gupta.

But the call evoked a mixed response in Jammu, where the main body of transporters stayed away from participating in the strike. The Jammu Bar didn’t issue a statement to support the call, although work in the high court was suspended on Saturday in solidarity with the strike call.

According to reports, the main markets in Jammu city were shut on Saturday, even though public transport and private vehicles were plying normally on the roads. Government offices, schools, tuition centres and banks were also open across the city.

Witnesses said that all the shops in the prominent markets of Jammu city like Raghunath Bazaar, Gole Market and Bahu Plaza area were closed. “However, some shops in the markets on the city outskirts like Channi and Narwal were open,” Arun, a Jammu city-based garments trader, who didn’t give his second name, said over the phone.

“Every effort was made to derail the shutdown call but the public response has shown that Jammu is against this decision (of the J&K administration) to unilaterally impose the property tax,” JCCI chairman Gupta told The Wire, claiming that 90% of businesses in the city supported the call.

The imposition of the property tax has triggered another row in Jammu and Kashmir after massive public outrage forced the administration, headed by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, to suspend a sweeping “anti-encroachment” drive which was launched in January this year.

“People of Jammu and Kashmir have economically suffered a lot and are still suffering because of the political turmoil in the past few years. This tax is like rubbing salt on our wounds,” said a Jammu-based activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity fearing reprisal from the authorities.

Gupta said that the decision to impose property tax lies with the municipalities, but the L-G’s administration was taking policy decisions “which is a prerogative of elected representatives” of Jammu and Kashmir. “It is unfortunate that we don’t have any representatives to resolve this issue,” he said.

Sinha has favoured dialogue on the issue, saying that the peoples’ interest is his administration’s “top priority”. But the administration has stopped short of reaching out to the public or businesses who will be major contributors to the Rs 150 crore fund which is estimated to be raised in the form of property tax in Jammu and Kashmir.

The administration, which is run directly by New Delhi, has justified its decision, saying that the tax is imposed in all states and union territories of the country and is nothing new or unique to J&K.

Sinha has also argued that the tax slabs in Jammu and Kashmir are the lowest in the country and the monies raised will be put at the exclusive disposal of municipalities to enhance the living experience for citizens in urban areas of Jammu and Kashmir.

Successive political dispensations stayed away from imposing property tax in Jammu and Kashmir due to apprehensions of self-inflicted erosion of public support.

However, after the Union government stripped J&K of its special status, it paved the path for the Union territory administration to impose property tax as part of the larger move to isolate the existing political parties by strengthening the institutions of local self-governance under the Panchayat Raj.

Political outfits in J&K, including the BJP’s local unit in Kashmir Valley, as well as Kashmir-based business organisations, have opposed the tax which has been widely dubbed as part of the Union government’s larger agenda to firm its grasp on the volatile border region.