Ghulam Rabbani, who owns a shop in Gulistan-e-Johar, has reignited a long-simmering battle over jurisdiction between the city’s two titans – the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and Cantonment Board Faisal (CBF). And all he did was ask a simple question: Who do I pay taxes to?
For over a decade Rabbani has lived in a 120-square-yard house in Block 17, which comes under the cantonment. Except for water, it charges its residents for all municipal services – such as garbage collection and road cleaning.
A few weeks ago, Rabbani received a bill of municipal charges from KMC. “I looked at it for a long a time,” he told The Express Tribune. “They want me to pay Rs8,000. It is no small amount and they are charging us for nothing.”
The cantonment annually charges between Rs10,000 and Rs16,000 for a conservancy tax for a single-storey house built on 120-square yards. On the other hand, KMC has sent bills which come to around Rs1,800 a year for the same type of house.
Rabbani’s was not the only household that received the surprise mail. Hundreds of houses, apartments and shops located on both sides of the road between Johar Morr and Johar Chowrangi have been sent similar bills. The difference is that Rabbani is, for now, the only one to have marched off to Civic Centre, the headquarters of the city administration, to ask what is going on.
“People always hesitate to take the first step. I am sure more people will start shouting once warning letters are sent,” he laughed. He has visited the KMC office twice and also went to the CBF office. Both sides have encouraged him to fight. To make matters worse, KMC has backdated the bills, charging people from January 2009.
The cash-strapped KMC is determined to raise its revenue and the military-backed CBF says no one can encroach on its jurisdiction. CBF’s revenue officer Muhammad Ali called KMC’s move a desperate and illegal attempt to occupy another authority’s jurisdiction. “For 20 years, we have been doing everything here from clearing the transfer of property to cleaning roads,” he said. “Now they have jumped in to tax the people.”
The CBF is responsible for municipal services in Johar’s blocks 9, 12, 13, 15, 16-A, 17, 19, 20, Gulshan-Jamal and some areas in block 10-A of Gulshan-e-Iqbal. Ali said the matter was settled three decades ago via a presidential order. KMC’s Deputy Director for Municipal Charges Arshad Khan said that the charges are not new. “We are basically collecting the fire and conservancy tax,” he explained. “Do you remember the surcharges which were attached to water bills? Those same charges.” They were discontinued because of some legal complications, he added.
In order to figure out who to charge, KMC has drawn on the data of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KW&SB). “If someone has an issue then they should go talk to the CBF,” KMC’s Arshad Khan said. “But according to our data, all the people who are being charged, come under our jurisdiction.”
For now, Rabbani said he will come back with more people next time. “I am retired and I have nothing else to do,” he quipped. “If they want me to go see this or that official for a whole month, I’ll do it,” he said as his son tried to persuade him to leave Civic Centre, at least for the day.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2012.