Centre cuts urban reforms grant by 10 pc, J&K to lose Rs 46 cr

Centre cuts urban reforms grant by 10 pc, J&K to lose Rs 46 cr

2 February 2013
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: The Central Government has made it clear that 10 per cent cut imposed by it on urban reforms grant for the State Government would stay unless the State initiated four major reforms in the Urban sector, which have been pending for the past quite sometime. Official sources told the Excelsior that a 10 per cent cut in urban reforms grant would mean losing a massive amount of Rs 46 crores during the current financial year. With less than two months to go for completion of ongoing fiscal year of 2012-13, there seemed no immediate possibility of implementation of four major reforms in the Urban Development sector in such a short period of time despite the steps being initiated by the Ministry. Four major reforms listed by the Central Government for implementation by the State included imposition of property tax by constituting a Property Tax Board, holding of elections to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), appointment of Ombudsmen for the ULBs and implementation of 74th amendment of the Constitution of India for transferring functions of various Departments including PHE and PDD to Municipalities. 'Though the Government has agreed in principle to implement all four major reforms yet the exercise was time consuming and couldn't be done within the current financial year', sources said, adding that the State was taking all possible measures to implement the reforms for which the process has already been set into motion. As far as imposition of property tax was concerned, the Urban Development Ministry of the State Government had introduced a bill to this effect in the Legislative Assembly in budget session of 2011. The bill had lapsed in the Legislative Council. Again it was passed in the Lower House in budget session of 2012 but the Upper House sent it to the Joint Select Committee, headed by the then Housing and Urban Development Minister Tara Chand. However, the Select Committee didn't hold a single meeting. With the change of guard, Legislative Council Chairman, Amrit Malhotra has nominated Nawang Rigzin Jora as new chairman of the Select Committee. 'If the Select Committee managed to finalise its recommendations within the next one and a half month, there is a possibility of the bill getting the Legislature nod or, otherwise, it would have to wait for next session of the Assembly in Srinagar in September-October', sources said. They added that initially the Congress leaders were opposed to the bill as they feared the imposition of property tax for the first time in the State would mar their political prospectus. However, gradually they were coming to the conclusion that there was no option left now but to implement the reform. On holding of elections to the ULBs, sources said, the process for this has been initiated and the Election Department was expected to start the mandatory voter revision for the ULBs. The Government was expecting to hold the elections to the ULBs in April-May if everything goes well. On appointment of Ombudsmen to the ULBs, sources said the Law Department had to send the names as per the Constitution. Regarding implementation of 74th amendment of the Constitution of India, sources said, some of its provisions could be incorporated in State Municipal Act for implementation. The State had to transfer functions of Public Health Engineering (PHE) and Power Development Department (PDD) besides some other Departments to Municipalities under the reforms, which was not done when the Municipalities existed from March 2005 to March 2010. Sources said the implementation of such major reforms was a very time consuming exercise in which various formalities including enactment of legislation and several Government Departments were involved. 'In such a process, the Government was not expecting release of urban reforms grants, which have been blocked by the Union Government', they said, adding for the current financial year, the Government could face a loss of Rs 46 crores unless the Centre agreed to release the amount on assurances of the State leadership that it was in the process of initiating the reforms and would implement them when the formalities were completed. Sources said the Planning Development Ministry, as a last ditch effort, would take up the issue with the Planning Commission of India to release the grants blocked under 10 per cent for the Urban Development Reforms to help the Department take up more development works. However, there was remote possibility that the Planning Commission would release the funds in the absence of long pending reforms.