BMC's proposed fire services fee becomes political hot potato

Apr 27, 2013, 07:20 IST | Ravikiran Deshmukh and Sujit Mahamulkar

While the corporation is determined to pitch the new tariff in its monthly general meeting in May, its own standing committee has rejected the idea before, citing that citizens are already paying a fire tax

The simmering issue of a new fire services fee (FSF) that Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has been mulling for some time now has come to a boil, as the civic body prepares to push the plan in its monthly general meeting to be held in the first week of May.

A government official revealed that the fire services competence of Mumbai has 50 per cent deficiency in terms of equipment, and BMC can utilise the FSF to upgrade  facilities. Representation pic

The FSF, as prescribed under the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006, varies from residential to commercial structures and hotels to nursing homes. The baseline suggested by the Act says a civic body with a population of more than 50 lakh in its jurisdiction can levy Rs 5 per metre for a building with apartments and a height of 15 to 24 metres, with an upper limit of Rs 30,000.

The amount will be Rs 7 for a building with a height of 24-35 metres with a ceiling of Rs 40,000, and Rs 10 for a structure 35 to 45 metres in height with a cap of Rs 60,000. Residential towers beyond 45 metres in altitude will pay Rs 15 per metre with Rs 1 lakh as the upper limit. Likewise, star-category hotels will have to bear the burden of hefty charges as prescribed by the government. For instance, a five-star hotel will pay Rs 20 per metre and a seven- star one Rs 25, with ceilings of Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2 lakh respectively. However, the civic body reserves the right to levy a higher tariff than the one prescribed.

According to sources from the state government, municipal corporations in Maharashtra were expected to create corpora of funds for the fire services by imposing such charges. An official expressed surprise at the fact that BMC took so long since the Act had come into existence in 2006, and implementation began in 2008. As a relief to small buildings, the government has not prescribed any fee for residential structures up to four floors, he said. The matter assumes importance as the fire services competence of Mumbai has 50 per cent deficiency in terms of equipment, revealed another government official, adding that BMC can utilise the FSF to upgrade facilities. 

Meanwhile, the civic body’s standing committee has rejected the idea of imposing a fire services fee, pointing out that BMC is already charging fire tax in its assessment bills and there’s little sense in levying two tariffs for the same purpose. In its May 4 issue last year, MiD DAY had pointed out (‘BMC faces heat over charging fire tax twice’) that the proposed toll would put a twofold burden on the taxpayer. If implemented, BMC expects to collect FSF with retrospective effect from December 2008. The proposal was most recently vetoed by the standing committee on February 12. BMC hopes to earn Rs 329 crore annually through this scheme.

Shiv Sena, a ruling party in the corporation has vehemently resisted the FSF. Yashodhar Phanse, Shiv Sena corporator and leader of the house in BMC, said, “If the civic body is already charging 4 per cent ‘fire tax’ in its assessment bills as part of general tax, then why should citizens again pay for the same cause? It would be an additional burden on them,” he said. BMC has been charging a fire tax since 1936. Phanse also recommended that the FSF should be a one-time charge and should be recovered from the builder.

‘It’s different’
A senior government official, however, said that the FSF is a part of the newly-framed Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006, that cannot be compared with the fire tax, and the new rule will be applicable all over the state. According to the proposal, the rate of taxation will vary from building to building and will be calculated based on the area, age and the nature of the building.

The higher the building, the higher the fee, and the highest tax will be collected from commercial structures like hotels, mercantile centres etc. The new fee would be charged while providing commencement certificate to construction and reconstruction of every building.

Rs 329 cr
What BMC expects to earn annually with the fire services fee 

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