IN AN election year, the Punjab budget has focused on the youth, women and farmers with Finance Minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa unfolding various schemes for the three sections, from women hostels, skill development to a pension scheme for farmers.
With a view to woo women, the Finance Minister announced the Swasth Kanya Yojna at an outlay of Rs 70 crore, to provide free stationery for girl students in classes I -XII. For girls in classes VI to XII, Kanya Health Care Kits (KHCK) will be handed on a monthly basis. Women will also get loans of up to Rs 50,000 at an interest rate of 5 per cent annually instead of existing 9 per cent, to set up new business enterprises. The government has set aside Rs 5 crore for the scheme.
The FM also announced the setting up of three working women hostels and has set aside Rs 10 crore for the project. He also announced special women patrolling teams around schools, colleges and malls to ensure their safety, besides launching a mobile app, Shakti.
The budget proposes to catch the youth by providing training to one lakh of them through 200 skill-development centres, to come up in rural Punjab. Around Rs 20 crore has been set aside for providing employability allowance of Rs 1,000 per month. A provision for 4,000 modern gymnasiums to be set up in towns and villages at the cost of Rs 200 crore has also been made.
Interest-free education loan of up to Rs 5 lakh for youth from economic weaker sections. A start-up programme for innovative research and enterprise was announced with an outlay of Rs 100 crore. The youth would be provided financial assistance under the new scheme Startup Program for Innovation Research and Enterprise (SPIRE-Punjab).
Besides getting power subsidy, the small and marginal farmers (having a landholding of less than 5 acre) would get interest-free crop loans of Rs 50,000 per crop. An interest burden of 4 per cent would be borne by state government, with a liability of Rs 200 crore.
New Farmer provident fund and pension scheme has been introduced to be administered through Punjab State Cooperative Bank, under which the government would pay a matching annual contribution made by the beneficiary for 10 years.
In a boost to diversification, the budget proposes to do away with VAT on raw honey, bee keeping equipment, and pig feed, currently attracting tax of 6.05 per cent. An amount of Rs 1,000 crore has been set aside for old age, widow and handicapped persons pension. The government had recently doubled the pension from Rs 250 to Rs 500.
While raising the compensation for farmer suicides from Rs 2 to Rs 3 lakh, the Finance Minister said it was saddening that as many as 66 per cent of farmers in Punjab have a debt worth Rs 35,000 crores. The number is third highest in the country after Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
State borrowed Rs 14,633 crore to service debt
Funds-starved Punjab borrowed a whopping Rs 14,533 crore, an increase of Rs 2,578 crore from last year, to keep afloat during the current fiscal year. According to the budget, of the borrowed Rs 14,533 crore, Rs 13,400 crore went towards debt servicing, while just Rs 1,133 crore (7.7 per cent) was used for other expenditure. An amount of Rs 9,764 crore was utilised for just paying interest. The borrowings excluding ways and means, are expected to rise to Rs 15,815 crore in the next fiscal. While the state’s debt has gone up to Rs 1.38 lakh crore, it could not meet the target of revenue from its own tax revenue and VAT collections. Against a target of Rs 29,351 crore from its own taxes, the state managed to collect Rs 28,514 crore, falling short by Rs 837 crore. Similarly, the VAT collections too, the state has been found wanting by Rs 850 crore. Against a fixed target of Rs 17,850 crore, it could only make Rs 17,000 crore.
Despite the grim picture the government had to do away with VAT on raw honey, bee keeping equipment, and pig feed, currently attracting tax of 6.05 per cent, to boost diversification. The saving grace has been its non-tax revenue as Punjab was able to make Rs 200 crore more than its target of Rs 3,800 crore. The state also received Rs 8008 crore on account of devolution of central taxes.