The first budget after the expansion of modern India's earliest city has reiterated the civic body's resolve towards better civic amenities without much effort towards augmentation of revenue. Chennai's area increased from 174 sq km to 426 sq km last year and has facilitated the emergence of Ripon Buildings as a hub of brisk civic activity.
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The total revenue for Chennai Corporation for the financial year is estimated to be Rs.2921.48 crore and the total expenditure is estimated to be Rs.2922.73 crore. The budget deficit will be Rs.1.25 crore.
A considerable chunk of the expenditure would be on storm water drains (Rs. 404.53 crore), bus route roads (Rs. 103.85 crore), buildings (Rs. 89.64 crore), electrical (Rs. 87.32 crore), mechanical (Rs. 84.52 crore), family welfare (Rs.84.03 crore) and solid waste management (Rs. 80.64 crore).
The budget announcements range from school-wise development plans to a step towards review of the assessment of property tax and streamlining of tax in a transparent manner.
Announcements pertaining to the improvement of civic infrastructure in hospital zones are likely to contribute towards improvement of Chennai as a destination for medical tourism.
This will be the right civic move only if the effort is matched by better initiatives for healthcare of lakhs of residents, particularly belonging to the weaker sections.
The multi-purpose hospital with leprosy centre for south Chennai at Madambakkam, accommodation facilities for heart surgery patients on public private partnership mode, NGO assistance in night shelters, rat and mosquito control programme, dialysis units and laboratories for expanded areas, urban primary health centres in expanded areas, dental units in 11 zones and mobile medical vans for slums continue to give hope for the residents.
Smart classrooms for Chennai Schools, renovation of toilets, civil services coaching and career guidance, music rooms in schools and 30 more English medium schools are conspicuous steps on the education front.
Quality control for the works carried out by the civic body, increased coordination with all road stakeholders, panel of road architects for street planning and simplification of plan approval process are among those announcements that have the potential to change the face of Chennai. Proposal for solar-powered streetlights; e-tendering for online processing and the Urban Poor Fund for a focused attention on the urban poor may also be stepping stones for urban renewal.
Even though the city has expanded considerably in area, the property tax estimate for 2012-2013 has shown only a marginal increase from Rs. 430 crore to Rs. 500 crore. The civic body, which collects property tax based on rental value, is yet to provide an answer for the poor rate of growth of property tax even after expansion.
The mismatch between the lease value and rental value of the thousands of properties on lease, according to the data available with the Registration Department, may hold one of the keys to facing such a challenge.
With the borrowing requirements of the civic body on the rise, property tax revenue is likely to become the key for civic budgeting.
The data from Registration Department and other government agencies is likely to catalyse an augmentation of property tax without hurting the interests of residents belonging to the weaker sections.