Three-time MLA and the current Minister for Commercial Taxes, Registration and Stamp Law, P Moorthy, shares his insight and vision for the top revenue-generating department.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
How is your new responsibility as Minister?
After I was sworn in as minister, Chief Minister had sent me and my brother, Minister PTR Palanivel Thiyagarajan, on a mission to control the spread of Covid in Madurai district. We started the containment work right from the doorsteps of each house in the district. We made a proper plan, reached all the 420 village panchayats and established mini Covid care centres with the help of 3,596 woman self-help groups and identified the patients at the earlier stage. This helped to bring down the numbers from 1,500 to 140 cases per day. Both the departments, I deal with, are on top in generating revenue for the State. I am learning and trying to manage it efficiently.
Being a minister, you have to deal with people, visitors, inspections at hospitals, meetings etc. How do you ensure that Covid precautions are in place?
I'm a field worker. I have been in politics for more than 45 years. Even as a party worker I prefer to be connected with the people. Now I have been given a post as a minister and it's an opportunity to be more close with people. So I never hesitated to get down into the crowd during this Covid containment mission. Yes, as a human, I'm also vulnerable to infection, beyond that, not everyone gets this chance as a minister to serve people. Even our Chief Minister gets his PPE kits and visits patients. We follow him.
In a very critical time, when the State's financial condition is in a bad shape, you are the minister of a very important department that generates revenue to the State? What is your insight on this?
In the last 10 years, the department has been a hell for the public with a lot of corruption. Now we are in a position to revive it and make the department people friendly. I have two efficient officers, Secretary of the department Jothi Nirmalasamy, the Kalpana Chawla awardee, and Commissioner M.A Siddique, who is an expert in public finance and policymaking. They are keen on making the department corruption-free and are thriving hard to generate more revenue for the State. We will be hard on those who evade tax by fake bills and will even more friendly with the genuine taxpayers.
Just now I have started my zone-wise review meetings. I got shocked after I learnt that for the past 10 years there was no consultation meeting held by the department with the traders and businessman in the State. Recently we started holding meetings with them. Heard their grievances and those will be addressed after consulting with the Chief Minister.
As far as the Registration department is concerned, we are in a position to resuscitate the entire department. Initially, we have managed to establish a centralised grievance cell and released three toll-free numbers. I have also instructed to give priority to the complaints made by the public. Further, there will be zero tolerance for the corrupt officials in the department.
Madras High Court had come down heavily, in the past, on the corruption prevailing in the registration department. Further, in the previous CAG report, it was determined that Rs 1,662 crore was the loss to the State due to under assessment of tax and other irregularities by the department. How you are going to wipe all these?
I am not going to deny that. Yes. There are a lot of irregularities in the department in the past 10 years. Now we're are not trying to seal anything. We are making efforts to cleanse everything from top to bottom. The cleansing work has already started. I'm very much concerned that there should be no intermediary or broker between the public and registry offices.
Till yesterday, we were concentrating more on Covid containment works as per the advice of our Chief Minister. Now our focus is more on the departmental works. I have completed two zonal meetings. The rest will be done after the Assembly session. I'm aware that there is discontent among the people about the corruption and functioning of the department. Our government will rectify the past errors.
For example, in the nine sub-registrar offices in the Marthandam zone, we have achieved 100 per cent in registration of documents and all the documents were returned to the parties concerned on the very same day. The same process will be implemented in all the registration offices across the State.
A system was implemented where the public can themselves pay the registration fees online. But people feel that the software is not user friendly?
Will take note of it and will look into it. To stop the interference of the brokers between the sub registrars and the document writers, we have made facilities for those who buy or register a property to pay the registration fees by themselves online or through nationalised banks or E-Sevai centres.
After I took charge, I have given strict instructions that the registration process should be completed in ten minutes and should not make the public wait. Arrangements are made in all registration offices to announce the name of the persons who come for registration purposes when their turn comes. We are having several plans to ease the system and after consultation with the Chief Minister, things will be implemented.
Coming to the Commercial Tax department, tax-evading and fake bill menace have been there for a long time. How are you going to manage it?
I have held review meetings with the commercial tax officials and after going through the records we found that several persons have obtained a GST number, without having a company, had evaded tax.
During the interaction with traders, they pointed out that for branded products they are about to make a bill during sales. But several traders are selling unbranded products which they do not bill and it costs heavy loss to the government. Now we are going to concentrate on this issue.
A heavy penalty will be imposed on traders who sell duplicate products without bills.
It was also brought to my notice that duplicate of branded goods have been brought from North India into our State and we are planning to curb it by creating additional check posts in our State borders.
As you said, you have found several misappropriations in the department during the past regime. Now your government is in charge of answering even for the past errors. What is the course of action that will be taken?
You are right. We cannot skip answering the past errors made by the AIADMK government. Everything is under the radar now. Wait and Watch. Within a month you will see obvious changes in the department.
We aim to simplify the registration process and will ensure complete transparency in the department.
What are your plans for Madurai?
In the last 10 years, Madurai's growth has been in a reverse mode. Till now, we don't understand why there is a 7-km overbridge constructed from Race Course to Oomachikulam when there is absolutely no need for it. There are many such unnecessary schemes/plans brought into Madurai that do not benefit the public, except the AIADMK ministers.
We are making efforts to expedite the works of AIIMS, following the advice of the Chief Minister. It will boost the employment opportunities in the region and will make opportunities for the companies involved in medical instruments production.
We will revive the granite industries. Further, the persons who committed mistakes in the past will be punished as per law. We are also concentrating on the expansion of Madurai airport and will turn it into an international airport. We will make efforts to expand agriculture-related production.