Shimla MC for green tax, hike water charges

Shimla: Faced with a financial crisis so as to maintain civic services in one of the oldest municipality of the country, Shimla councilors held a closed door meet on Wednesday and decided to raise water rates by as much as 60 percent and recommended imposition of green tax on all tourist vehicles entering the city.

Speaking about the important councilors meet, deputy mayor Harish Janartha, said, “Our options were limited. Just for supply of water to the residents, the corporation overdue bill to the government by March would touch Rs 71 crore.”

Not just raising water charges from Rs 4.24 to Rs 6.82 per kilo litre, the councilors agreed upon host of other measures like local tax hike on sale of liquor, passing on increased street lighting costs onto residents and also asked the state government to impose green tax on all outside vehicles entering the city, disclosed Janartha. “If we can have green tax in Manali, why not in Shimla,” he said.

It was at the intervention of the Himachal High Court that a green tax of Rs 200 per vehicle was imposed in the popular tourist destination in June 2004. A move to impose such a tax in Shimla has been resisted by government earlier.

Sources disclosed that as the municipality was finding it difficult to bill all users for water, a proposal to outsource the entire service was considered.

Pressure has been mounting from Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to raise resources if more projects for the city are to be approved, he said. Despite cost of providing water to the hill city being one the highest in the country, the nominal charges being levied from consumers was burning a hole into the municipality revenues, leaving nothing on the table for improving civic services.

A state government official of the finance department disclosed that though a Rs 750 crore water scheme for Shimla had got the approval of the planning commission but funding agencies were averse to taking it up because of the high cost-benefit ratios involved.

“A whole lot of projects like creating additional parkings, a better public transport system, improved water supply and others are pending,” says Janartha, “and unless the belts are not tightened, we may never get to improve civic services here.”

The municipality established in 1851, civic services were laid out mainly for about 20,000 European and British settlers of the upcoming township. The population has expanded since then and currently is estimated to have about 3 lakh residents.

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