The Kerala government presented Budget 2022-23 in the state Assembly on Friday, setting forth its focus on knowledge economy and linking skill with production.
No major tax burdens were announced for the common man despite a financial crunch triggered by the Covid pandemic, but there was no expansion of welfare schemes, a usual highlight of the state’s Budgets in the past, either.
The government has also announced Rs 2,000 crore for K-Rail’s SilverLine project, indicating the LDF government’s resolve to go ahead amidst criticism it was ignored by the recently announced Union Budget.
The semi-high speed railway line, which proposes to connect the north and south of the coastal state, has come under fire from environmentalists who have warned of a potential large-scale damage as it passes through eco-sensitive areas.
The Budget also set apart Rs 10 crore to help medical students, who have returned from war-torn Ukraine, to continue their studies here.
Friday’s Budget, presented by Finance Minister K N Balagopal, was the first full Budget of the second tenure of the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left government.
“I am attempting to present through this budget a new developmental vision which integrates knowledge and production,’’ Balagopal said.
As part of the plan, the Budget proposed Rs 2,000 allocation for, among other projects, setting up of four science parks, 14 district skill parks for young entrepreneurs, a genomic data centre, besides four IT corridors along the south-north national highway and 20 micro-IT parks.
In the higher education sector, according to the Budget, translational research centres will be developed in campuses of universities in the state along with start-ups and incubation centres. Special schemes will be allowed to start new short-term courses and PG courses in project mode.
Mini industrial units with modern technical facilities, and start-ups will be set up adjacent to educational institutes such as engineering colleges, polytechnics, ITIs and Arts and Science colleges.
“Through this, along with their studies, students can participate in the economic and production process, acquire training and make earnings. Educated people, including former students, can be associated with these enterprises. A pilot project will be announced soon in all 14 districts of Kerala,’’ the minister said.
In the Budget, Finance Minister Balagopal, who is a CPI(M) state secretariat member, has heavily banked upon the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB), which has been known for making off-budget borrowings to invest in infrastructure projects.
He said KIIFB would give Rs 2,000 crore for land acquisition under SilverLine. Besides, Rs 1,500 crore from KIIFB would be used for two major road infrastructure projects in the state.
The government has also set up Rs 2,000 crore for surviving the threat of inflation and ensuring food security.
To resolve the crisis in the plantation sector, Balagopal said, the government will also amend plantation laws to preserve land reforms objectives, to include pomiculture in plantation, in addition to rubber, coffee and tea.
Proposing to present an ‘Environment Budget’ from the 2023-24 fiscal, a major highlight of this year’s new tax proposals is an increase of 50% in the ‘green tax’, imposed on vehicles more than 15 years old.
Green tax will now also be levied on all diesel vehicles. Fair value of land would be increased by 10% apart from revising the basic land tax.
Opposition Leader V D Satheesan said the Budget does not have any moves to tide over the pandemic-related economic crisis. “Many proposals in the budget are unrealistic,” he said.
The Budget also indicated a change in the state’s excise policy with the government encouraging manufacturing of wine and other minor alcoholic beverages from fruits and crops other than food grains.
The government also proposed to expedite bringing in the 5G system and fast-track the mechanisation in the agriculture sector. To increase the reach of government services to the citizens, 2000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the state will be established, the minister said.
The Budget said the state aims at net zero carbon emission by 2050 to become a role model for the nation.
For the students who have returned from Ukraine, Rs 10 crore has been allocated to the Non-Resident Keralites Affairs Department, to help them continue their studies in India.
Against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the government said it will also convene a meeting of prominent peace workers and thinkers across the world on nuclear disarmament and world peace.