BMC online property tax collection: Software glitches lead to complaints, Rs 7,000 crore locked up in disputes

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FIVE years since the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) adopted a new software to assess and compute property tax through a capital value-based system, anomalies in computation, miscalculation and a number of other technical glitches continue to plague the assessment department of the municipality. After the civic body migrated from the rateable value-based system to the more scientific system based on capital values of properties, tax revenue to the tune of Rs 7,000 crore is locked in disputes and litigation. That is more than the annual average of Rs 5,000 crore collected by the BMC in property taxes.
Since March 2013, more than 54,317 call logs / complaints regarding the property tax assessment system have been recorded from the city’s 24 wards. More than 3,000 complaints are still pending resolution.
According to assessment inspectors across the city, glitches in the software are plenty. It does not update payments made online, amount payable annually is often mentioned as due for six months in the annexure / bills, navigation from one section to another on the same page is not possible without logging in multiple times, no history of payments is maintained. Also, systems remain unoperational for almost three months every year, leading to piling up of work load.
“In order to generate increased revenue through tax collection and overcome the limitations arising out of the rateable value system where rent control limits the notional rateable value or rent-earning value of a property, the rateable value system was discontinued in 2010. However, neither was staff trained, nor was software for computing and calculating tax as per the new system ready. It led to chaos to the extent that we continue to come across errors till date,” said a senior assessment inspector.
The issue of nearly Rs 11,000 crore (cumulatively since before migration to the new system) locked up due to litigation was recently taken up by BJP corporator Abhijit Samant who raised a point of order in a Standing Committee meeting.
The BMC issues two property tax bills — one for the April-September period and the second for the October-March period. The tax amount is based on the area, construction, property size and the age of the building. Property Tax also includes taxes such as water tax, sewerage tax, etc.
Anomalies in computation alongside the steeper new taxes have caused concerns for home and property owners. The new system also carries the threat of hefty penalties for non-payment.
The software glitches have led to assessment inspectors facing public wrath due to miscalculation and wrong computation. One inspector said, “Taxpayers don’t buy these reasons for the goof-ups. They have accepted the new system; they pay tax on time, but still face problems. They blame us because we have assessed their properties and they know us. Technically we work for seven hours, of which three hours are spent facing angry tax payers.”
To cite an example, Vinay Joshi, a resident of Vile Parle, cleared his property tax for 2015-16 and left for the US. When he returned, he found a BMC notice intimating him that his property tax was outstanding. Joshi had made the payment online and had received a receipt, but the same was not updated in the system. The payment was then updated manually.
In the case of Seven Hills hospital, Andheri, the hospital administration was issued a notice stating that the amount payable as property tax for 2011, 2012 and 2013 was Rs 1,017 crore, but the hospital contended that the amount was Rs 585 crore. The hospital administration wrote to the civic body in 2014 lodging its objection. The matter then landed in court.
Another example is that of Unity Complex, a residential society in Malad West, which also alleged that it had received inflated property tax bills this year in July.
All these cases were then resolved by making manual corrections in the software. “There are several modules where we add, edit data. However, to work on each module, one has to first log in, complete the work, take a printout and following this, the system logs you out. One has to re-login to work on another module on the same page. The system is designed in such a manner that it leads to both waste of time and paper,” said an assessment inspector.
While errors still crop up, the contract with the company which designed and maintained the system has concluded, leaving the department to tackle pending and unresolved complaints.
“Already, there were so many problems with the system and the support provided only dealt with individual complaints and not the root cause of the problem. However, now that the contract has concluded, it’s like we are moving in a bus without a driver. We were doing better calculations manually,” said an official.
Sanjog Kabare, BMC’s Assessor and Collector, said there had been issues but they have been resolved. “Pending ones will be resolved as soon as new contract is signed, which will be done by next week,” Kabare said.

 
This story was originally published by Dipti Singh in The Indian Express on October 3, 2017.

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