Maharashtra Budget: Ajit Pawar presents Rs58 crore surplus

Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar today presented a Rs58 crore surplus budget, hiking taxes on soft drinks and liquor while exempting foodgrains and essential commodities. The presentation of his maiden budget was marked by slogan-shouting by opposition members

Mumbai: Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar today presented a Rs58 crore surplus budget, hiking taxes on soft drinks and liquor while exempting foodgrains and essential commodities, reports PTI.

Presenting his maiden budget in the Legislative Assembly, which was marked by slogan-shouting by opposition members, the finance minister said that in 2010-11, revenue receipts were Rs1,07,159 crore as against Rs86,910 crore in 2009-10, showing an increase of 23.3%.

Mr Pawar said there was 26% increase in sales tax mop up in 2010-11 and 31% rise in stamp duty collections.

"We have not increased sales tax rates like some other states have done, yet sales tax receipts registered an increase," he said.

During the year 2011-12, revenue receipts are expected at Rs1,21,503 crore and revenue expenditure at Rs1,21,445 crore.

Mr Pawar said revenue deficit is proposed to be eliminated for coming fiscal and a marginal revenue surplus of Rs58 crore expected during the period.

Last year, revenue receipts had been estimated at Rs97,043 crore, Mr Pawar said. Considering the trend of revenue collection during the year, revised estimates of revenue receipts were fixed at Rs1,07,159 crore.

Revenue expenditure at the beginning of the year was expected to be around Rs1,04,698 crore. In the revised estimates, this expenditure has been fixed at Rs1,12,846 crore.

Mr Pawar also said that tax on declared goods under the Central Sales Tax Act in the state is proposed to be raised from 4% to 5%. The government also proposes to levy tax on production or import of liquor at 50% of the actual sale price, which shall not exceed 25% of the MRP, he said.

Tax at 20% rate shall be charged on actual sales in hotels-4-star and above. In the case of bars, restaurants and clubs, the rate of tax would be 5%. Set-offs on liquor purchases will not be available to them.

Mr Pawar also proposed to increase the tax on carbonated soft drinks from 12.5% to 20%. Similarly, tax on goggles is proposed to be raised to 12.5% since they are not used as normal corrective spectacles.

Mr Pawar proposed 5% tax on sale of telecast rights of entertainment and sports events.

VAT is levied at concessional rate of 4% on sales made under section 8(5) to electricity generating, transmission, distribution units; telecom industry and to defence and railways. The rate under this provision has been proposed to be increased to 5%.

The minimum rate of excise duty will be increased to Rs 95% litre for country liquor, Rs240 per proof litre for foreign liquor, Rs33 per bulk litre for mild beer and Rs42 per bulk litre for fermented beer.

Mr Pawar also proposed amendments to the Bombay Stamp Act 1958 where uniform stamp duty of 0.005% will be charged on transactions of securities, futures, delivery and non-delivery based transactions for clients as well as own account.

Presently, different transactions are being charged at different rates; uniform stamp duty will simplify it, Mr Pawar said.

Transactions of transfer of long-held tenancy rights of house properties at prime locations in Mumbai will be liable for stamp duty at their market value, he said.

In the Legislative Council, the budget was presented by minister of state for finance Rajendra Mulak.


TRAI’s green telecom efforts not sufficient, say experts

The telecom industry is receiving incentives and subsidies as part of the efforts to reduce the carbon footprint, but it is not doing enough in the major areas

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last month published a consultation paper on "Green Telecommunications" addressing various aspects like carbon footprints for the telecommunications industry. But, industry experts are questioning the incentives and subsidies provided to the sector to push the green agenda.

Professor Girish Kumar, of IIT Bombay, who has been undertaking research on the harmful effects of electro-magnetic radiation (EMR), asks: "Why does industry want incentives for green telecom? Is it not our duty as Indians to not pollute our own country? Should we not care for our people and environment?"

The paper says there are 3.1 lakh towers and about 60% of the power requirement is met through diesel generators and the rest is fulfilled by power from the grid. But Mr Kumar insists that there are more than 4.5 lakh towers in the country as of 2011 and that due to shortage of power nearly 59% of the requirement is met through diesel generators and this causes pollution.

He also pointed out that telecom operators enjoy unnecessary subsidy on diesel. He explained that telecom operators get Rs7 per litre subsidy on diesel. Since their consumption of diesel is 2 billion litres every year, they get a subsidy of Rs1,400 crore per year.

Mr Kumar suggested that the numbers of diesel generators can be reduced if power requirement is curbed by optimising telecom systems. The transmitted power from cell towers must be reduced from 100W to 2W, which will also help to control radiation.

Mr Kumar said, "The government should adopt immediate policy measure to reduce the transmitted power to a maximum 1W to 2W, so the energy requirement will be substantially reduced. Due to low energy requirement, there will be no need for cooling of the high-power amplifier, and thereby air-conditioning would also not be required in most of the cases and then this reduced power requirement can be provided through solar or other renewable energy."

Mr Kumar also raised the issue of the operators' demand for self-regulation of the industry. Telecom operators present for the discussion on the consultation paper had said that the government should try to regulate everything and operators must be allowed to self-certify that they are meeting all norms.

Mr Kumar said operators should not be allowed self-certification and that the government should introduce stringent policies and third-party monitoring of radiation levels and air pollution levels near cell towers. "Heavy penalties should be slapped in case of any violation as it is directly related to the health of people, birds, animals and the environment," he said.

Activist Jehangir Gai, said, "There should be an independent and competent third party regulation." Mr Gai explained, "Assuming that the telecom companies say that there are no health hazards, then of course there are some. Even if there is no conclusive study proving the health hazards due to cell towers, necessary precautions should be taken. It is always better to be on the safer side."

Moneylife has reported on the health hazards arising out of cells towers and the negligence on the part of the government to look into the issue. (Read 'Cell towers violate health and safety norms' , and 'DoT group proposes low radiation levels for cell towers' )

Mr Kumar said it is not enough for service providers to move indoor base transceiver stations (BTS) to outdoor BTS, switch off a few transmitters, and to adopt an automatic frequency plan and air cooling instead of air-conditioner to reduce carbon footprint.

He also recommended that telecom service operators emphasise on research and development to develop solutions, and that the government should come up with rules for 90% of telecom-related products to be manufactured in India, which would also help create millions of jobs in the country. (Also read,'Industry does not want to spend on more cell towers that will lower radiation'. )


Domestic natural gas users to be burdened with higher price

An inter-ministerial panel on gas pricing, which met today, agreed on the need to charge more from users of domestic natural gas so that imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) can be made affordable. However, the power ministry wants more discussion on the rationale to average out or pool price of costlier imported LNG with cheaper domestic gas

New Delhi: An inter-ministerial panel today agreed on the need to charge more from users of domestic natural gas so that imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) can be made affordable, reports PTI.

The inter-ministerial committee, headed by Planning Commission advisor (energy) Sunanda Sharma, today held it first meeting on subsidising costlier imported LNG by making consumers of cheaper domestic natural gas pay more.

"The meet discussed the need for such a move and all except the representative of power ministry agreed on the need," a source privy to the deliberations said.

The power ministry wanted more discussion on the rationale to average out or pool price of costlier imported LNG with cheaper domestic gas, the source said.

More deliberations will follow and various sub-groups on working out modalities, tax implications, etc, will be formed.

The panel was constituted after Petronet LNG, India's largest liquefied natural gas importer, contracted LNG from Australia at a price that is four times the rate at which most of the natural gas produced from domestic field is sold.

Australian LNG, which is to be imported at Petronet's under construction Kochi terminal in Kerala from 2014, is indexed at 14.5% of crude oil price-the loading price at Australian port will be $14.5 per million British thermal unit (mmBtu) at $100 a barrel oil price.

After adding $1-$1.2 per mmBtu towards cost of shipping, the gas in its liquid form in cryogenic ships to Kochi, 5% customs duty ($0.77 per mmBtu) and cost of converting the LNG into its gaseous state, the gas ex-Kochi will cost about $17 per mmBtu.

This compares to $4.2 per mmBtu price of majority of gas, the source said, adding the panel will suggest how these two prices can be pooled or averaged out to make the gas affordable to power and fertiliser units in Kerala.

However, the constitution of the committee has come in for questioning by some quarters, who say inclusion of officials of Petronet, a private company, and state-owned gas utility GAIL are a conflict of interest.

Petronet and GAIL, which is a promoter of Petronet and principal marketer of the Australian LNG, are naturally inclined towards price pooling.

Instead, upstream regulator Director General of Hydrocarbons (DGH), they say, should have been co-opted as member of the committee so as to detail the implication and complication of such proposal on contracts of the fields awarded under New Exploration Licensing Policy.

The inter-ministerial panel includes representatives of power, fertiliser, finance and oil ministries, GAIL India chairman, Petronet CEO, Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board secretary and Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) director finance.

Previously, GAIL had commissioned a study by Spanish consultant Mercados on the feasibility of pooling of over a dozen different rates at which natural gas produced from different fields in the country is sold.

The price for domestic natural gas ranges from $2.71 to $5.73 per mmBtu, LNG imported from Qatar on long-term contract is currently imported at $6.92 per mmBtu and from spot market at $8.50-$9.50 per mmBtu.

Sources said the terms of reference (ToR) of the committee have been tweaked to omit the previously indicated objective of rationale for pooling of gas.

The ToR in the present form pre-suppose that the decision of a pooled price has already been taken and that the committee was only to devise pool operating guidelines, without even evaluating the various options.

Mercados had suggested separate pools for fertiliser and power sector and involved several complex inter-ministerial issues.

The Inter-Ministerial Committee will formulate a policy for pooling of natural gas prices and devise pool operating guidelines to make the policy operational.

Petronet LNG, India's largest importer of liquefied natural gas, has contracted 1.5 million tonnes a year of LNG from Australia for delivery at its under-construction Kochi terminal in Kerala from 2014-end.

The natural gas produced by state-owned ONGC and Reliance Industries, which together account for over 80% of gas in the country, is priced at $4.2 per mmBtu.


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