MUMBAI: The cash-starved Maharashtra government has decided to impose ‘drought tax’ on the state’s residents to deal with the situation arising out of the deficient monsoon. And the government hopes to raise around Rs 5,000 crore every year to help the nearly three crore drought-hit people in the state.
A Cabinet subcommittee on the relief and rehabilitation on Tuesday decided to impose the tax in view of lack of funds to deal with the drought situation. The government has already earmarked Rs 7,000 crore for the purpose of water supply through tankers, fodder to animals, financial assistance for seeds and waiver in electricity bills and school/college fees.
State Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, who heads the Subcommittee, said that the drought tax will be imposed only in an emergency situation. “We have reserved a considerable amount for drought relief. The tax will be introduced only if this amount is exhausted and there will be no other way to raise additional funds,” he said.
The Opposition Congress and the NCP have expressed reservations about the government move. “The government should run an austerity drive and save money to be used on the drought related works instead of burdening the taxpayers,” said Congress spokesperson Anant Gadgil. NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said the government should waive the farmer loans instead of imposing the tax.
Raju Shetti, a BJP supporter MP and farmers’ leader, welcomed the idea. “I will not oppose the tax if it is the last resort to raise the funds. The drought affected people should be helped at any cost,” he said.
Interestingly, Mungantiwar echoed the Congress’ suggestion on austerity. “We have saved at least Rs 1,500 crore since we came to power in October. No other previous government could do that,” he said.
According to the state government’s official data, the state had received 61 per cent of its average rainfall till July-end. The water storage in the state’s dams is only 44 per cent. The 229 talukas out of the 355 have received less than 75 per cent of the average rainfall. And the residents of 1,340 villages and 2,362 hamlets are being supplied drinkable water through tankers. The richest state in the country in terms of per capita income is reeling under debt of `3,75,000 crore. It spends 70 per cent of its income on the establishments and salaries of its employees.