Residents of the 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh will soon have to pay for street-lighting. chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has cleared the proposal and very soon the clause 'streetlight tax' will become part of the property tax notice served on AP residents.
As per primary estimates, each house will be levied Rs 50 to Rs 100 as 'streetlight tax' per year based on the total amount of the owner's property tax.
The decision to burden the people with a tax for this basic civic amenity was taken in view of the massive losses power utilities have been incurring. In the 2014-15 fiscal, the power utilities supplied 313.12 million units for lighting up the streets of Andhra for which it drew a bill of Rs 170.81 crore. Against this, they got a mere Rs 5.46 crore as payment from the user bodies. So it was decided to pass on the burden to the end user - the citizen.
About 3.5 crore people of the total 4.8 crore population of Andhra Pradesh would now have to pay 'streetlight tax'. The move will largely affect about 22,000 panchayats. Orders to this effect will be issued in a couple of days and collection of the tax as part of property tax will start from July 2015, said sources. They pointed out that Naidu's government, which is in the midst of an unprecedented fiscal crisis, was forced to take this move.
In municipalities and corporations, the money spent by the state in providing streetlighting is already being extracted from the consumers. "There are various taxes in urban areas like advertisement tax, entertainment tax, shop licence fee, etc. From the money collected under these heads, we pay the power utilities for the bill raised by them for providing streetlighting," said an official in the municipal administration department.
There is a history to this tug o' war over streetlighting. For a long time, gram panchayats were paying the power utilities for streetlighting, but in 1987 the then chief minister NT Rama Rao issued GO 44 exempting local bodies from paying for streetlighting.
To make up for this, successive state governments started deducting the amount given by the Centre under devolution of funds meant for local bodies and diverting the same to the power utilities. But a problem arose when the Centre stopped releasing funds for local bodies on the grounds that elections were not being held. "For the last two years, we did not get any funds from the Centre as we have delayed holding elections to the local bodies. The Centre does not release funds unless the election process is followed as per the schedule. Till date, the amount meant for the local bodies withheld by the Centre amounts to Rs 1,774 crore," said an official in the finance department.
Of this, the dues of the gram panchayats to the power utilities for streetlighting stands at about Rs 800 crore. This led to the power utilities disconnecting the electricity supply to hundreds of panchayats. "It was under these circumstances that we decided to levy 'streetlight tax' on rural consumers," said a source in the panchayat raj department.