KERALA

Building tax arrears rising in civic bodies

N.J. Nair

Civic bodies directed to launch intensive drive to recover arrears



Rise in number of defaulters in local bodies

Under-assessment of commercial buildings



THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Mounting building tax arrears in the urban as well as rural local self-government institutions (LSGIs) in the State has put their already poor financial position under further strain.

A primary assessment of tax defaulters above Rs.10,000 from 2003 to 2008 in the urban LSGIs found that the arrears in Thiruvananthapuram corporation had touched Rs. 5 crore and Kochi, Rs. 3 crore. Official sources told The Hindu that the situation was not different in Kollam, Thrissur and Kozhikode corporations or the 53 municipalities and 1,000 grama panchayats.

Political compulsions of elected members and alleged bureaucratic apathy in initiating timely action to recover the arrears have contributed to the rise in the number of defaulters. Had the LSGIs taken a list of defaulters from Rs.5,000, their numbers and the sum would have been much higher, sources said.

The Local Administration Department has directed the LSGIs to draw up a list of defaulters and launch an intensive drive to recover tax arrears. As the government has introduced a scientific accounting system in all the five corporations and Alappuzha and Thalassery municipalities, taking stock of the arrears and defaulters is an easy task in these LSGIs.

All other civic bodies still practise the traditional accounting system and do not maintain other records either.

Repeated reminders to step up tax collection to raise revenue have not been taken seriously by the civic chiefs. A majority of the civic bodies are facing a serious finance crunch and do not have sufficient funds to meet even routine expenses, including salary. Quite often, such expenses are met by diverting funds allocated for other purposes, sources said.

The ‘lackadaisical’ attitude of a section of the members and officials in maintaining the accounts and registers pertaining to layout and building permits issued by them is understood to have given way to corrupt practices, including lapses in tax assessment.

There is also a tendency to under-assess huge commercial and residential buildings. Certain buildings are not included in the tax net at all, causing huge revenue loss to the civic bodies.

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