Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Hyderabad Diaries - The Invisible User charges

One thing we are fighting here in Hyderabad (perhaps across India) is this invisible enemy - user charges. No one knows when and where the enemy springs from, because it is not mentioned in the price as a separate item. Some times it comes innocuously at the end of a long number of charges added to the actual cost of whatever service we are paying for. (Something like those 'service charges' that hotels and restaurants casually add to the bill at the end of the rather long line of taxes and items that have to be checked an double checked with the patience of an accountant.) In fact it may not be a bad idea to take one's accountant along - it might be cheaper if he saves a few charges for you.

Its all too complex and I wonder what use is my education if I cannot make out all this. The other day I was in line to pay my electricity bill and the young lady at the e-seva centre (which is now shorn of all the air-conditioned glory it had earlier) told us that the department has added a Rs. 10 user charge for paying its bills. Pray, why this Rs. 10 user charge? I have no clue but what does one do - its just too dense and too complex to fight my way in to find the answer. I know I am a user, and I am already paying you the price for using your service (and a service tax to the government, and a value added tax to the government, and perhaps sales taxes and all sorts of cesses, duties, charges as well that are all hidden somewhere and repeated again and again) so why this special recognition of my 'user' status and that too at a price? The Hyderabad airport also I am told has a 'user charge' of some 600 rupees which does not show up. I am sure I am paying many more user charges without even knowing them.

Everywhere we go these invisible charges follow us. In buying fuel, in road tolls, in air fares, in rail fares, in taxes, in services availed, in food consumed, in entertainment, in every possible way the burden is being passed on to the tax paying user base quietly while the government goes about doing its job in what could at best described as an inefficient manner - doling out subsidies, not bringing in checks and measures to prevent misuse of power and resources, selling off precious national assets - hoping to stay in power through populistic measures.

So we pay steep current bills, and suffer the recent increase in the power tariff by the AP State Electricity Board, and suffer massive power cuts. We pay these charges and then - here comes the irony - everyone buys their inverters and generators (on which there are further taxes and stuff).

We pay hiked water bills to the water department and then - buy drinking water from the many companies offering potable water in plastic cans. We buy water in tankers because the water supply is not good enough and is trickling down.  

We buy cars and pay all sorts of tolls, parking charges, fuel charges and even luxury taxes sometimes. Not counting all the other unofficial charges one has to shell out for. We go to a movie and are taxed, we go to a restaurant and are taxed, we avail any service and we are taxed - there is just no respite for the common man.

In almost every single act of our day, (save a few) we are taxed over and over again that we have lost count of the taxes and how and where we are paying for them. The only way out is to pay them or like a harried friend of mine who recently wound up his flourishing business told me today, go under the tax bracket, where you are not troubled anymore. Once you stop working (like a humourous article in the Economic Times mentioned which he showed me) you are saved this incessant pressure of earning to pay taxes in every form. And then as an unemployed person, if you're reasonably smart - your power connections, water connections, your unemployment schemes, your windfalls as the voting public, free housing, free medical care - much awaits the other side.

One can fight the enemy if the enemy shows himself. But here, its invisible. Who are we fighting? What are we fighting? The charge merely appears quietly in the bill. Or it may emanate rather loudly from the auto rickshaw wallahs mouth or the fruit sellers mouth. All one can do is shut up and pay. And hope that one can pass on such user charges to someone else down the line. Only, it appears, that we are the last in this line.


Rajendra said...

Well, we don't yet have breathing charges, on the positive side.

Harimohan said...

Yes Raja, but first they'd auction off all the possible breathing air to some private party at some piddly sum and leave it to them to fix the user charges. And after that we just have to pay to breathe. Every two or three months the private party will cite some decrease in breathing traffic or air quality and increase the prices (which will have an additional service tax). After a while there will be some nuclear surcharge on hydrogen, water surcharge on oxygen and several other surcharges which will go to various departments that will do nothing with it except harass people for not carrying their air usage certificates. Enough to make you stop breathing. The best thing to do to breathe normally (like my friend says) is to fall below that line and claim you are not breathing.