Thursday, 29 September 2016

Bengal lags in urban reforms

New Delhi, Sept. 28: Bengal has shown the least progress in initiating reforms under a scheme launched last year to modernise the working of urban local bodies, according to data available with the urban development ministry. Bengal's performance in the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) could be a cause for concern as states that achieve the scheme's
objectives in the current fiscal will get an incentive of 10 per cent of the annual budget allocation at the beginning of the next financial year. According to details available with the ministry, cities have been judged on six of the 11 reforms mandated under AMRUT, which has an outlay of Rs 50,000 crore for 500 cities.

The six reforms are: e-governance (websites), double-entry accounting, water and energy audit, separate accounts for user charges, 90 per cent collection of user charges and 90 per cent collection of municipal taxes and fees.

Of 436 cities and towns in 23 states and Union territories, 409 have launched city websites, 329 have shifted to double-entry accounting that gives a clear picture of assets and liabilities, 345 have introduced energy and water audit to ensure efficient use, and 247 have introduced separate accounts for user charges highlighting recoveries.

Over 130 cities reported 90 per cent collection of user charges and municipal taxes, which is considered substantial by the ministry given the need for urban local bodies to increase revenue base.

Some of the cities collecting 90 per cent of municipal taxes and user charges include Lucknow, Allahabad, Mathura, Chandigarh, Raipur, Dewas, Kolhapur, Surat, Vadodara, Thiruvananthapuram, Mysore, Tirupati, Vijayawada, Cuttack and Aizawl.

Bengal is one among 23 states that have submitted reports to the ministry on these parameters.

Of the 54 cities on which the Trinamul government has submitted its report, 53 have websites, 45 have double-entry accounting and 54 have water and energy audit.

But the state seems to lag behind in initiating changes in the working of urban local bodies to generate revenue.

Under AMRUT, one of the mandatory reforms was to have separate accounts for user charges for each service provided by the urban local body, so tabs could be kept on expenditure and recovery of cost. The main services for which this was specified are water supply and sanitation.

No city from Bengal features in this list.

Bengal has also not been able to meet the target of achieving 90 per cent collection of user charges or 90 per cent collection of municipal taxes and fees.

In comparison, Andhra Pradesh (30 cities), Karnataka (27 cities), Maharashtra (43 cities) and Uttar Pradesh (60 cities) have performed much better across the six categories than Bengal.

Last year, the urban development ministry had approved an investment of Rs 1,105 crore for 54 cities in Bengal to ensure basic infrastructure services relating to water supply, sewerage, septage management, storm water drains, transport and development of green spaces and parks with special provision for meeting the needs of children.

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