THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Union Budget has come as a huge disappointment for Kerala once again. The 18-point wish list of the Left Democratic Government , which had pinned great hopes on the Budget remains what it is: a mere wish list!
The State’s disappointment is clear from the statements of Chief Minister Pionarayi Vijayan and State finance minister K N Baqlagopal. Both have accused the Union Government of badly letting down the State. The burden of their song is: the Budget has failed to perk up various sectors reeling under the devastating impact of the pandemic. The unkindest cut, they say, is the proposed additional excise duty on unblended fuel, which will increase the price of petrol and diesel with consequent rise in prices of almost all items.
The Chief Minister voiced his displeasure over the decrease in allocation for the MGNREGS rural job guarantee scheme. The allocation in the budget is Rs 25,000 crore less than this year’s spending. The expectations were that the funds for the scheme which helped thousands of families to remain afloat would see an increase and the number oif days would be increased from 100 to 150. The Government’s apathy towards the life-sustaining scheme is clear from the fact there was not even a mention of it in the Budget speech of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman! So much for the talk of helping the poor by the Modi Government. Not only non-BJP governments even BJP-ruled states are unhappy about the weakening of a safety net during an acute employment crisis. Kerala’s finance minister Balagopal said the cut has come at a time when the country is facing its worst employment crisis. Many crucial schemes will have to be stopped as a result of this cruel budget blow.
The Chief Minister also came down hard on the cuts in food and fertilizer subsidies. The 28 per cent cut in the food subsidy will administer a crippling blow to the state’s public distribution system while the 25 per cent reduction will hit the agriculture sector hard. The CM also expressed his disappointment over the failure to concede the
State’s long-standing demands like an AII India Institute of Medical Sciences(AIIMS) and a separate railway zone. Adding insult to injury is the insufficient allocation for central Public Sector units in the State. A sore disappointment is the failure to even mention the SilverLine project which has kicked up a furious debate in the State.
The State’s finance minister has expressed his dismay at the Centre’s refusal to extend by five years the compensation period of Goods and Services Tax (GST). As of now, the compensation period ends in June this year. And the resultant loss to Kerala alone will be between Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 12,000 crore, he pointed out. Another demand of the State – to increase the borrowing limits of the States – from the present conditional 4 per cent to at least an unconditional 5 per cent – has also gone unheeded. The limit has been reduced to 3.5 per cent of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). While 4 per cent has been allowed in the 2022-23 financial year, 0.5 per cent of this is tied to reforms in the power sector. Balagopal also said that the budget allocation of Rs 1 lakh crore to assist states in catalyzing investments in the economy is not sufficient.
Kerala has also opined that the decision to reduce the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) on cooperatives from 18.5 per cent to 15 per cent is inadequate. Balagopal drew the attention of the Finance Minister to the strong opposition to taxing the cooperative sector from States with robust cooperative sectors including Kerala. What the Union Government should have done was to exclude the cooperative sector from AMT, Balagopal added.
He also voiced the State’s grave concern over the low allocation for vaccination. This, coming as it does at a time when many are yet to get second and booster does, is unacceptable. The Government’s failure to tax the super rich is also inexcusable. The corporates have been treated, as usual, with kid gloves while the poor, struggling to make both ends meet, have been meted out a raw deal. Balagopal also resented the budget announcement of ‘one-Nation One-Registration Software’ for ‘anywhere registration’ of documents and deeds. The announcement militates against the concept of cooperative federalism and amounts to a blatant encroachment upon a State subject.
The Chief Minister has, however, expressed his happiness over the Union Government’s decision to emulate Kerala’s schemes like K-Fon, Digital University and KIIFB. Pinarayi hoped that the Centre would, during the discussion on the Budget, announce projects that would help Kerala tone up the social and infrastructure sectors. (IPA Service)