Daily World Special: Punjab finances in mess; Govt mulls over host of taxes to fulfill promises

‘The State Govt is planning to further curtail expenditure by restructuring staff in various departments/agencies and defining their roles and responsibilities so that the cost of an employee is commensurate with his output.ÔÇÖ

By Manish Tiwari | Chandigarh

Faced with severe financial crisis and mounting debt burden, the cash-strapped Punjab government is actively mulling over levying a host of taxes, including professional tax, tax on entertainment, tourism promotion fee, sustainable agricultural cess, etc. to mobilise additional resources and fulfill its promises, it is learnt.

Top government sources informed Daily World that a meeting under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was held on July 5 to deliberate on a series of options to generate more resources and the StateÔÇÖs Finance Department was asked to examine all the recommendations made by various departments.

Among others who attended the meeting, included Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, Chief Principal Secretary to CM Suresh Kumar, Advisor to Chief Minister VK Garg, Chief Secretary Karan A Singh, Special Chief Secretary (Revenue) KBS Sidhu, Principal Secretary (Finance) Anirudh Tewari, Financial Commissioner (Taxation) Anurag Agarwal, Principal Secretary (Transport) Sarvjit Singh, Principal Secretary to CM Tejveer Singh, Special Secretary (Expenditure) Rajat Agarwal and State Transport Commissioner Tanu Kashyap.

The government has scheduled the next meeting under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister on July 19 to discuss and finalise the tax proposals.

Among the proposed taxes, the State government is considering to levy ÔÇÿprofessional taxÔÇÖ on the services of doctors, chartered accountants, architects, lawyers and even salaried persons on the pattern of Maharashtra. It is also toying with the idea to levy ÔÇÿtax on transportation of goodsÔÇÖ to mobilise revenue. During the meeting, the Chief Minister was informed that while the GST Council has levied a 5 per cent GST on the services of ÔÇ£transport agenciesÔÇØ, the power of States to tax goods carried by road has not been interfered with. In view of this, a government official advocated exploring this option as well.

The government is also looking at the option of having an ÔÇÿanti pollution taxÔÇÖ on the pattern of Himachal Pradesh. This tax can be levied on vehicles entering Punjab which have been registered outside the State, the Chief Minister was informed.

Advocating levying of Motor Vehicle Tax, one of the officers apprised the high-level meeting that one-time tax on registration of motor vehicles in Punjab was much lower compared to the neighbouring Haryana. So the present taxation structure in Punjab could be altered to match the tax rates of Haryana. Sources said the government is also considering raising the rate of electricity duty from current 18 per cent to 20 per cent. Besides this, it is examining levying of sustainable agricultural cess, rural development fund (RDF)/Mandi fees, environment protection fee, tourism promotion tax on bigger ventures such as 5-star hotels, etc and augment resources for tourism promotion and generate more employment opportunities in the State.

The Government is also considering a proposal to hike the tax on State Lotteries — which is presently 12 per cent as compared to 28 per cent in some other states. It was pointed out in the meeting that there was scope to increase sale of state lotteries and the resultant tax collection. In this meeting, a proposal was also mooted to appoint a full-time Director of Lotteries and strengthen the directorate further.

These options were discussed after Chief Secretary Karan A Singh in his opening address at the meeting emphasised the need to generate additional revenue for fulfilling budget promises and initiate more schemes for welfare of the people of Punjab. The Chief Secretary also informed that huge funds were lying with the Ministry of Telecommunications for promoting ÔÇÿDigital Reach/ConnectivityÔÇÖ. So the matter could be taken up with the Union government for the release of funds for purchase of smart phones to be given to the people of Punjab as promised in the election manifesto.

Among other ideas which were deliberated upon were the constitution of CSR Authority and further curtailing government expenditure by restructuring staff in various government departments/agencies and defining their role and responsibilities so that the cost of an employee was commensurate with his output.

According to the sources, the government also discussed another proposal to carry out a comprehensive exercise for establishing ÔÇÿE-OfficeÔÇØ in various departments and clearly define the workflow from the field office to the Heads of Departments to the Administrative Departments. A decision was taken to constitute a task force with three officers — Sarvjit Singh, Tejveer Singh and Abhinav Trikha — as its members, and start a pilot project in this regard.

The government has, meanwhile, advised all departments to explore the possibility of revising fee charged for various services rendered by them. The administrative departments have been asked to clearly work out the financial impact of the proposed revision for smooth decision-making, the sources added.

(manish@dailyworld.in)

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