Ad hocism and political expediencies damage GHMC

From the debt-free, surplus status in 2013-14 when the Telangana manifested as a separate State, the GHMC is now neck deep in debts, with the total borrowings over the past nine years crossing ₹6,300 crore

February 28, 2024 11:33 pm | Updated 11:33 pm IST - HYDERABAD

The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation head office in Hyderabad.

The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation head office in Hyderabad. | Photo Credit: File photo

The general body and council meeting of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation on February 20 passed the annual budget estimate of the corporation which stood at ₹7,937 crore. This is close to 19% jump from the revised budget estimates for 2023-24, and 27.5% higher than the original estimates for the year.

Another unmissable component of the latest budget estimate is the sum allocated for debt servicing. From the ₹450 crore allocations for interest and principal repayment for the year 2023-24, the amount under debt servicing has gone up to ₹1,012 crore in the revised estimates, which is a 125% jump. ₹₹₹

From the debt-free, surplus status in 2013-14 when the Telangana manifested as a separate State, the GHMC is now neck deep in debts, with the total borrowings over the past nine years crossing ₹6,300 crore. A major portion of the loans, over ₹4,250 crore, was availed for the Strategic Road Development Plan (SRDP), under which a total 42 structures were planned and executed/ are being executed at various locations across the city. Of these, 33 components, most of them flyovers and underpasses to circumvent the traffic gridlocks at junctions, have been completed and inaugurated.

Loans of close to ₹1,500 were availed for regular road maintenance, which was handed over partly to private agencies. It is pertinent to mention here that this is the first time ever that GHMC borrowed for road development and maintenance. Earlier, capital expenditure on traffic easing structures would be the State government’s responsibility.

The council, dominated by BRS corporators and supported by the friendly MIM members, kept mum about the heavy borrowings by the corporation and lack of financial support from the then State government. Though the BJP won considerable number of seats in 2020 elections, council meetings were repeatedly disrupted, and adjourned at the slightest provocation without any meaningful discussions till the recent Assembly elections.

The government is also the biggest defaulter of the GHMC, when it comes to non-payment of property tax, and devolution of assigned revenues such as Professional Tax, Motor Vehicle Tax, and others.

The corporation is now heavily banking on grants from the State government. Funding from the government to the tune of ₹1,200 crore each is shown under both Revenue receipts and Capital receipts, respectively under the heads of ‘compensation to GHMC for debt servicing’ and ‘capital grants from State government’.

Staring at bankruptcy, the authorities have realised that unless attention is paid to improving the corporation’s performance on collection of both property tax and building permission fee, it may end up forever waiting for crumbs from the State government.

Property tax projections for the coming year stand at ₹1,907 crore, which is mere 75% higher from 10 years ago, though the period since 2014 has been the golden era for the city in terms of realty. The growth in number of property tax assessees has been less than three lakh over the past five years.

Officials vouch under the condition of anonymity that unassessed properties across the city could number anywhere between 1.2 lakh to 1.5 lakh, tapping which could bring a windfall for the corporation.

Geospatial mapping/drone mapping of properties in the city has once again come to fore as the effective method to zero in on the tax evaders, with GHMC Commissioner Ronald Rose mentioning it in the Council meeting. Tenders were also called for, and later withdrawn due to lack of response.

The idea of satellite mapping of properties has been tossed around quite a bit for the past 11 years in GHMC. Outside the city, it has been successfully implemented, and the Commissioner & Director of Municipal Administration had even bagged a national award for the ‘geospatial mapping of urban properties’. In the city, however, it has only remained on paper.

Though the property mapping was almost finalised when IAS officer M. Dana Kishore took over as the GHMC Commissioner in 2018, it was later shelved and replaced with ‘self assessment’ of properties introduced by the later commissioner D.S. Lokesh Kumar who aimed to curb corruption among tax collectors.

With Dana Kishore assuming reins as the principal secretary, Municipal Administration & Urban Development, recently, the satellite mapping has resurfaced as the method for improving tax collection.

The Enforcement wing, of late, has swooped down on the advertisements at unauthorised locations, after condoning them for years.

Adhocism in administration and political expediencies have already done much damage to the corporation, which is struggling to shore up revenues even for discharging its basic responsibilities. Concrete policies and measures towards revenue generation backed by strong enforcement, and devolution of funds legally accruing to the GHMC, could go a long way in leading the corporation back towards self reliance.

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