With the Lok Sabha elections just a few months away, the BJP government in Gujarat on Tuesday dished out an array of sops for fishing community and farmers, while staying away from imposing any tax hike in its Interim Budget for financial year 2019-20.
After presenting a surplus budget of 12,241 crore in the Assembly, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said that perks announced for various communities in the Interim Budget were part of the existing schemes of the government. He also said that he decided not to increase tax because of the jump in the state’s “own tax income”that shot up by over 11 per cent in 2017-18.
“We have increased allowances provided for various schemes that are already operational… New schemes or items can also be introduced while presenting a full budget. Whatever we have done here — for instance, widow pension, allowances of aanganwadi workers — are all part of the current schemes,” Patel, who holds the Finance portfolio, told mediapersons after presenting the budget in the House.
Finance Department officials said that of the total provisions made in the Interim Budget of Rs 1,91,817 crore, the government plans to spend Rs 63,939 crore in the four months, between April and July, 2019.
“The House will be able to discuss the demand for the whole year when the modified budget will be presented,” Patel said, indicating that Assembly will hold a special session after the Lok Sabha elections.
With an eye on the Koli community votes, the BJP government increased the VAT (Value Added Tax) subsidy in diesel, used in fishing boats, by Rs 3. This is expected to benefit nearly 10,600 boatmen in the state.
The government also doubled the daily livelihood allowance — from Rs 150 to Rs 300 — provided to the families of fishermen held captive in jails of Pakistan. At present, there are about 503 Indian fishermen in Pakistani custody, as per the figures shared in Lok Sabha in February 2019. Most of them are from Gujarat. The government has also decided to allot an additional 5,000 hectares of land to encourage prawn culture in the state. This land is in addition to the 7,500 hectares and will generate employment of 25,000 aqua-culturalists, said Patel in his budget speech. The government also announced setting up new fish landing centres in Valsad which has a population of 23,000 fishermen.
While the government did not announce any farm-loan waiver as demanded by the Opposition Congress, it announced to set up a Rs 500 crore “revolving fund” to provide crop loans at zero percent interest to farmers in the state.
Patel, however, reiterated on the floor of the House that his government will waive of Rs 691 crore of outstanding dues of 6.74 lakh farmers, poor and medium class power consumers under a one-time waiver scheme.
“The state government has decided to waive of principal and interest and penalty amount of electricity bills of all eligible domestic power connections of BPL consumers of urban areas, all agricultural power connections, power connections of all residences of rural areas, commercial power connections of small traders of rural areas,” the Deputy CM said.
Talking about the vote on account presented by the state government, Patel said, “This year, the Union Government has presented a vote on account. Therefore it is befitting that the state’s economic approach is shaped in accordance with the policies of Union of India. We have accordingly decided to present and seek vote on account for the period of four months, ie up to July 31, 2019.”
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani termed the Interim Budget “progressive and sensitive”. “This vote-on-account has been prepared and presented keeping in mind the well-being of all sections of society, be it backward communities, tribals, Dalits, youth, women and minorities. This is a progressive and sensitive budget which takes care of even the last man in the last line,” Rupani said.
Listing the schemes, he said, “This vote-on-account reflects our sensitiveness, transparency, progressiveness and decisive approach. There is something for everyone in this,” the CM said.