Open up trade licensing system, urges councillor

CHENNAI, NOV. 29. Anyone who wants to set up a broiler chicken shop in Chennai has to pay just Rs.400 every year towards licence fees. But a shopkeeper ended up paying Rs.13,000 by way of bribes to various departments to get the licence, according to Corporation ward 25 councillor, O.S. Syed Masood.

In a memorandum submitted to the Corporation Commissioner recently, the independent councillor pleaded that the civic agency must consider an open (transparent) licence issuing system, whereby applicants can get the licenses without any condition by paying a fee.

Exorbitant sums

"The no-objection certificates from various departments which the Corporation demands have become tools for corruption. Invariably most applicants, particularly the small traders, end up paying exorbitant amounts," Mr. Masood said. A few other councillors have also signed the memorandum.

The memorandum states that small traders who are not fully aware of the licensing norms, fall easy prey to "agents" who work in nexus with the officials.

It pointed out that several buildings without fire safety measures had been allowed to house businesses. Getting a structural stability certificate was also not difficult if money was paid.

Mr. Masood said the civic agency stood to gain a lot from open trade licensing. "It will be a huge relief for traders who have been forced to spend their hard-earned money on bribes. Apart from increasing the revenue, open licensing will also encourage hitherto unlicensed traders to become legitimate."

According to the Corporation budget 2004-05, revenue from licence fees has steadily increased from Rs 2.91 crores in 2002-03 to Rs. 5 crores in 2003-04. The budget estimate for the current year is Rs 5.1 crores.

System misused

Insiders at the Ripon buildings say some officials, instigated by elected councillors, have misused the licensing system in the past.

A couple of months ago, an All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam councillor made a complaint to the Corporation Commissioner against a woman councillor of his own party.

He said she had accompanied health department officials during a hygiene check on a hotel and threatened the hotel authorities, saying she would get their licence revoked.

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