Striking a tough balance between severe resource crunch and a burdening debt liability to meet the Congress election promises,Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh Thursday presented a tax-free annual budget for 2013-2014 with a proposed outlay of Rs 21,767 crore.
The chief minister,who presented the budget for a record 16th time,announced a skill development allowance of Rs 1,000 per month for unemployed youth in the age group of 25-35 years,increased salaries of PTA teachers,discretionary fund of Rs 2 lakh for MLAs and food and power subsidies of around Rs 450 crore.
Except for doubling VAT on cigarettes and bidis to 36 per cent and 22 per cent from earlier 18 per cent and 11 per cent respectively and rationalisation of VAT on footwear,no other tax has been proposed. The proposals,however,leave a deficit of Rs 2,324 crore - 2.85 per cent of the GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) - which would be met through borrowings.
The current debt liability is estimated at nearly Rs 28,513 crore (March 31,2013) against Rs 21,241 crore in 2008. The biggest liability in the budget is salary burden of Rs 6,956 crore,besides pensions (Rs 2,839 crore) and interest payment (Rs 2,431 crore).
Thus,the unemployment dole,promised in the manifesto by the Congress has now been re-structured as Skill Development Allowance for the 10+2 and above educated unemployed youth registered at the employment exchange.
The allowance of Rs 1,000 per month (Rs 1,500 for persons with disabilities) will be given for two years to unemployed youth between the age of 25 to 35 years with a family income less than Rs 2 lakh per annum, Chief Minister said.
A provision of Rs 100 crore has been made in the budget for the scheme - much different from one adopted by Akhilesh Yadav government in UP and the one implemented in the Congress-ruled Uttarakhand.
He also proposed to give laptops to 5,000 meritorious students of 10th and 12th class of Himachal Pradesh Board of School Education and introduced examinations for class fifth to eighth to check declining learning levels of the students.
To students getting admissions to IITs,IIMs or AIIMS,the government will give a cash incentive of Rs 75000.
He also proposed hike in PTA grants to lecturer school cadre from Rs 7,250 to Rs 10,875; for the TGT from Rs 6,950 to Rs 10,425; and for C&V teachers from Rs 6,750 to Rs 10,125.
To attract new investments,Virbhadra proposed setting up three new industrial areas in Una,Solan and Kangra districts and said the clearances for industrial projects will be made time bound within 90 days under Public Services Guarantee Act.
Dumping previous governments pilot project on installation of anti-hail guns to protect apple crop,Virbhadra proposed to launch a scheme to provide quality anti-hail nets on 80 per cent subsidy with an outlay of Rs 165 crore.
Asserting that there will be zero tolerance towards corruption and all the cases pertaining to corruption will be investigated expeditiously and the guilty will be brought to justice by ensuring speedy trial,he indicted the police for not acting impartially during the previous government regime.
The Police is expected to be impartial in its dealings but during the tenure of the previous government,the police was virtually converted into Gestapo and some of the police personnel were involved in unauthorised phone tapping and making fabricated cases and I myself was a victim of one such fabricated case,he said.
This was the record 16th budget presented in the Assembly by the sixth time Chief Minister,Virbhadra Singh. Asked what difference he finds in todays budget and one he presented in his first term,Virbhadra said,Not much,but I feel the state has made rapid strides in its overall development.
Virbhadra Singh,for the first time,made a mention of AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi in his speech. People of state have rejected the wrong policies of the BJP government and have reposed full faith in the progressive policies and programmes of the Congress. This positive turn-around has been possible under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh,UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and INC vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Former minister and Dalhousie MLA Asha Kumari,a Virbhadra detractors,was conspicuous by her absence from the House. Contacted,she said,I had to rush to Delhi for a meeting convened by Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi and I have taken Chief Ministers permission for my travel.