Posted On November 4, 2016 By In Telangana And 673 Views

Nobody knows where user charges end up

Hyderabad: Ever wondered what happens to the user charges collected by the government?  A bigger irony is that even the departments, which collect the user charges, are clueless on this. They are not even aware of where the revenue so generated goes. If one goes by the information received to an RTI query, it gets evidently clear that a part of the money collected as user charges is diverted to the general expenditure of the government. The tax-payer believes and rightly so too, that user charges should be spent on improving facilities and providing better amenities at government offices and other public establishments. If the reply given to the RTI applicant, M Srinivas, is any indication, it is clear that the officials of the Telangana government are merely emulating the precedent set up by the earlier government, despite the Chief Minister reiterating time and again that the new State was reformulating all the policies that were introduced in the undivided Andhra Pradesh, which has neglected the interests of the region. What is more interesting is that the Public Information Officer of the Finance department failed to reply to the fundamental questions asked by the petitioner.  The applicant wondered why the user charges were being collected in the first place; how much was being collected and where was it going and if it was being spent on development works. The reply said, “Further, it is to inform that the remaining information regarding user charges not available in the State and advised to approach government of AP.” It appears that the officials are not aware that the Government of Andhra Pradesh does not exist anymore. What is now known as the State of Andhra Pradesh is a residuary State and has nothing to do with the questions that were raised by the applicant. According to the RTI reply, given to Srinivas the Greater Hyderabad Central City Committee Secretary of CPI (M), out of Rs 828 crore collected as user charges in 2014-15, only Rs 28 crore has been spent for the purpose it was collected for while the remaining amount was diverted for other purposes! The departments where highest user charges were collected are stamps and registration, forestry, family welfare, irrigation and miscellaneous general services.Similarly, of the Rs 1,607 crore collected in 2015-16, Rs 1563 crore was diverted. The departments which mopped up high revenue from user charges are Irrigation, water supply and sanitation, stamps and registration and miscellaneous general services. On one hand the government has failed to utilise the user charges for the purpose it had collected while on the other in its Golden Telangana Vision Document submitted to NITI Ayog, it has stated that the government proposes to increase the base of some taxes and revise some user charges. Srinivas said that government has forgotten the service approach. The user charges should be spent on improving amenities in the government offices, schools and hospitals. The collection of user charges has come in for sharp criticism from M Padmanabha Reddy of Forum For Good Governance. He said that additional collections like cess and charges were rather puzzling as the people did not know why they had to shell down money towards user charges.  He said that collections under education and Swachh Bharat cess are not used for the intended purpose. The government, which collects cess with great zeal, does not show same interest in spending it for the purpose it is meant for. Similarly, a retired IAS officer, on the condition of anonymity said there was no reason why people should pay user charges when they were already paying hefty taxes to the government. The government has a moral responsibility to provide some services free of cost. Once the GST comes into force, the service tax component would be included in it and this would put more burden on the people, they said.

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