Delhi – The Taj Mahal, India's most famous monument, was back in the news on Monday. This time, it was because The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was served notices by the Agra Municipal Corporation over dues in property taxes and water bills.
Not only the Taj Mahal, but the ASI also received notices for the Agra Fort and Itmad-ud-Daulah as well. The last two notices, issued by the municipal corporation on October 27, said the ASI has to pay Rs 1.9 crore in water bills and Rs 1.5 lakh for property taxes for the Taj Mahal.
The ASI, the body that maintains and protects historical monuments in India, said that the officials at the municipal corporation "'might be confused" in their assessment of the site which has a UNESCO World Heritage tag.
Raj Kumar Patel, the superintending archaeologist at ASI, said, "ASI properties inside the premises of the monument area are being considered as a property attached to the monument. However, they ( the municipal corporation) think it is a separate property. They have confusion about it."
From July to October, the ASI received four such notices from the Agra Municipal Corporation and the Cantonment Board, which also administers municipal, revenue, and land matters.
One of the notices, Patel, said was sent by the Cantonment Board in July. The notice said that the Itmad-ud-Daulah owed service taxes of over Rs 1 lakh. Another notice, which referred to the Agra Fort, said Rs 5 crore was owed in service taxes. "We replied to them that these are monument sites and are exempted from all taxes," he said.
Do monuments have to pay taxes and utility bills?
The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the construction of the Taj Mahal, which is situated on the Yamuna riverbank and contains the mausoleum of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The structure was completed in 1648, the ASI said.
The Taj Mahal, like several other ASI-protected monuments in India, are government asset and has been given a tag under the Constitution – Monument of National Importance in India. It is also covered under Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
Speaking to BOOM, a former Indian archaeologist KK Muhammad said that the Taj Mahal not only comes under national monuments, but it is also a world heritage monument. "There is no imposition of taxes on monuments by the government. They are government assets," he said.
Muhammad explained that buildings inside monument premises, such as ticket counters, offices, and other such structures, are also considered part of the monument. "For example, we have forests, they are our national assets and in order to guard or protect them the government has installed structures for them. So are they applicable for tax? No. Same is the case with ASI properties," he said.
The ASI conserves and protects monuments "as per the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958; Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Rules, 1959 and Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010".
Patel said, "The departments like Cantonment Board or Nagar Nigam get confused that the services or amenities which ASI is providing to the tourists through ticket counters, etc – they believe it is a non-monument property. However, the property is a part of the monument area as per the 1958 act."
Who pays the electricity and water bill for monuments?
Muhammad said the ASI pays the bills for electricity and water that is being consumed within the premises of monuments. He added that sometimes, municipal corporations or other government departments sponsor the bills for the lighting of these monuments. He said, "For example, in Agra, most of the time, the Agra Development Authority (ADA) sponsors the lighting but sometimes ASI also pays them."
However, Patel pointed out that the notice for the water bill for the Taj Mahal is not applicable to the monument because the lawns that ASI maintains inside the complex are for public service. "We do not have any water connection that we use for any commercial purposes," he said.
He added that ASI pays the electricity bills and water bills of buildings used by the department.
Do you always want to share the authentic news with your friends?