Led by SAD-BJP councillors, the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation general house on Monday passed estimated budget of Rs 1,315 crore for 2014-15, double than Rs 630 crore in 2013-14 and Rs 741 crore in 2012-13.
Interestingly, in 2013-14, the budget of Rs 623 crore was reduced to Rs 481 crore after revision by the Local Bodies Department. However, the income of Rs 556 crore till December by the MC saved its face.
This year too, more than half of the income expected by the MC will be coming through share of taxes, Central grants and loans from banks and the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO).
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Out of the total expected income of Rs 1,314 crore in the next financial year, Rs 530 crore are expected from devolution, share of taxes and Central grants and another Rs 185 crore will be coming through loans from banks and HUDCO.
Opposing the MC’s failure to increase its own sources of income, Congress councillors demanded an answer from Mayor Harcharan Singh Gohalwaria and MC Commissioner Shruti Singh.
“This budget is nothing more than a castle in the air. From where are we going to pay back the loans? From where is the actual deficit gap going to be filled and till when dependence on Central funds will continue?” asked Congress councillor Gurpreet Gogi.
The Opposition led by Hemraj Aggarwal also gave a series of suggestions to the mayor to increase income. “Why illegal buildings are not charged with exorbitant amounts and the common man is? Why is MC not taking fee from slaughter houses and why advertising is not being used to its full potential?” asked the Congress councillors.
Appreciating the Congress’s concern, the mayor said, “I am happy that finally Congress has woken up and concentrating on MC’s sources of income.”
Jasbir Singh Jassa, an Independent councillor, asked, “Why are we not catching the big crocodiles? Why malls and showrooms are not questioned for encroachments but the poor are?”
The House was also rocked by the issue of property tax as income from it was far lower than what was projected before its implementation. While last year the MC earned more than Rs 100 crore from house tax, this year property tax collection is Rs 64 crore only till December while the MC is eyeing Rs 90 crore in the coming 2014-15.
“What was the need for this property tax? Has MC failed to implement it properly? Even if it meets target of Rs 80 crore by March, it is lower than Rs 100 crore collected from house tax last year,” said the Congress councillors in unison.
The mayor defended the government’s decision and said, “All the returns are yet to be filed as people are still not aware of it. Lower collection shows that it was done for the welfare of the people.”
Stray dogs, fire brigade
A number of pending issues once again failed to find any special mention in the budget. Councillors spoke on various issues and demanded an increase in funds. While Rs 200 crore were sanctioned for health branch in 2013-14, it failed to buy new vans for catching stray dogs. Reacting to it, Gurpreet Singh Neetu, a BJP councillor, said, “People have died in my ward due to stray dog attacks. What else are we waiting for? It has become difficult for kids to come out of homes.”
He demanded four vans for each zone. The mayor assured action on this demand. BJP councillor Inder Aggarwal asked why the latest machinery has not been purchased till now for the fire brigade department. “Last year, Rs 26 crore were set aside for fire brigade and this year the amount has been increased by Rs 3 crore only. Ludhiana is a hub of industries and recently major fire tragedies have happened. Do we need more evidence to upgrade fire brigade?” he asked.