GO restrained local bodies from collecting property tax

Lax norms for granting permits for mobile towers and ongoing court cases have been providing the operating companies with almost a free ride for the past three years.

Since January 2011, no new tax assessment has been carried out for mobile towers following a Government Order (GO) restraining local bodies from collecting property tax for towers. With the increase in the number of towers in recent years, this has meant revenue loss for the city Corporation, and also raises questions about the unregulated proliferation of such towers across the cityscape.

In a writ petition filed in the High Court against the Kochi Corporation and other local bodies, Indus Towers Ltd., a telecom tower company, said it received tax notices from various local bodies and all of these had different rates quoted.

New GO

The rates were not uniform as calculation of property tax was based on annual rental values fixed by the respective local bodies. A new GO issued earlier this month, following an HC directive on the case, stipulates that taxes for towers be collected based on plinth area. In the past three years, the local body could collect only the one-time permit fee for new towers.

“Even before 2011, the Corporation was not making much money out of this. For towers fixed on land or even on top of buildings, the owners get between Rs.25,000 to Rs.1.5 lakh a month. But the taxes are not proportional to these amounts. The Corporation can do nothing about this. The policy itself needs to be changed,” says a Corporation official.

Safety issues

The local body did not have much of a role in ensuring the stability of the structure or building on which the mobile tower is erected.

The company just had to produce a structural stability certificate from an M.Tech. degree holder. This could prove dangerous as many old buildings in the city provide bases for mobile towers. But these are expected to change with the constituting of the new district-level telecom monitoring committees for such towers.

The revenue department of the local body said the city had 86 towers when records were last updated in 2012. But audit officials say there could be more towers. “We are yet to get the details of the number of towers, though we asked for it for the last audit,” says an audit official.

A curious inclusion in the local fund audit report of the Corporation for 2011-12 was a short note on ‘mobile towers’. Seventeen mobile towers were regularised by the Fort zonal office that financial year.

This regularisation is illegal as any telecommunication pole should have the permission of the Corporation Secretary as per clause 130 of the Kerala Municipality Building rules.

Such regularisation could mean that many mobile towers would still be out of the radars of the Corporation.