Thiruvananthapuram: The LDF government in poll-bound Kerala presented a welfare-oriented budget on Friday, hiking social welfare pensions, revising the salary of government employees and giving relief for farmers.
It also made hefty allocations for higher education, employment, and the digital economy.
Though finance minister Thomas Isaac took a record three hours 18 minutes to read out the budget for 2021-22 fiscal, the house only passed the vote-on-account for the first four months of the fiscal as the tenure of the current government will end in the coming months.
The Opposition Congress and BJP slammed the government for presenting a full budget.
Attacking the Left government, Union minister V Muraleedharan said it had “tried to make the Assembly a venue to announce its election manifesto”, while Congress state chief Mullappally Ramachandran said described the act as ‘politically immoral’ and said it had set a wrong precedent.
Muraleedharan said the Left government had cheated the people of the state by announcing projects in the budget, which has a tenure of only a few months.
The government also announced eight lakh new jobs for the educated unemployed, hiked pension for Non-Resident Keralites returning to the state to Rs 3000, and announced a 50% reduction in motor vehicles tax for the first five years for e-vehicles, besides promising various opportunities for women.
Significant schemes to explore possibilities of digital technology and innovations in the post-COVID scenario and tap the potential of the work-from-home culture was proposed in the sixth and final budget of the CPI(M)-led LDF government.
Distribution of laptops at subsidized rate for weaker sections, Rs 2000 crore universities modernisation programme, 2500 new startups, special park to manufacture cancer medicines,52,000 houses for backward communities, construction of 8383 km new roads were among the major announcements.
Isaac said the last five budgets of this government had laid emphasis on livelihood jobs.
“The next duty is to create knowledge-intensive industries and employment opportunities on this foundation.
Kerala has to be transformed into a knowledge society. Thereby the employment and welfare of everybody could be ensured,” he said.
Eight lakh new job opportunities would be created in the state, he said, adding 20 lakh people would be given employment in five years through digital platforms.
A council of state finance institutions, headed by the chief minister would be set up to define the aim of loans for entrepreneurship development and to review its progress.
Various welfare pensions were raised by Rs 100 to Rs 1,600 per month to benefit nearly 50 lakh people and an additional 10 kg rice for ration cardholders at a nominal rate of Rs 15.
The budget enhanced allowances and an honorarium of grassroot level employees, including ASHA workers, anganwadi teachers and helpers with more than 10 years of service by Rs 1,000 each.
In a relief for the agrarian sector, it proposed to hike the floor price of rubber to Rs 170, and procurement price for coconut and paddy were raised to Rs 32 and Rs 28.
The production of brand Wayanad coffee, a much-awaited initiative, would begin from next month, he said.
In the industrial sector, three industrial corridors with a capital investment of around Rs 50,000 crore was envisioned.
Bringing cheer to over five lakh-strong government employees, Isaac said orders would be issued to revise their salaries and pensions from April, based on the pay revision report which would be submitted by January end.
Salary arrears would be given later in three installments and the first installment of two DAs would be from April.
Assistance of at least Rs 1,800 crore for the struggling Kerala State Road Transport Corporation was also announced.
The budget proposed to formulate a policy to encourage eco-friendly construction of buildings built as per prescribed standards and several incentives were announced for them, including 50% reduction in one-time building tax.
To woo household women, a ‘smart kitchen’ scheme was announced, whereby they can avail smart kitchen chits from the Kerala State Financial Enterprise to buy household equipment.
The interest on the chits would be equally shared between the beneficiary, local government institutions, and the state.
While Rs 1749 crore would be available to the all-women poverty eradication mission ‘Kudumbashree’, Rs 84 crore was earmarked for child protection and development and Rs 5 crore for Project Rainbow, a scheme to uplift transgenders.
In a relief for the poor, Isaac said the government would continue Karunya Benevolent Fund Health Security Scheme.
“Kerala is providing the benefit of in-patient treatment up to Rs five lakh through the scheme to 41.5 lakh families. Karunya Benevolent Fund Health Security Scheme will continue,” he said.
Isaac also criticised the three contentious farm laws, against which farmers are agitating in New Delhi and the alleged “neo liberal” policies of the Centre.
In the tourism sector, Rs 100 crore was allocated for marketing, which is the highest ever provision, while Rs 150 crore was set apart for the Devaswom boards.
The government also increased the pension for journalists and non-journalists by Rs 1,000 and the state aid for working journalists’ health insurance was enhanced to Rs 50 lakh.
Besides, a press club for women journalists would be set up in the state capital with accommodation facilities.
Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Ramesh Chennithala said the finance minister had cheated the people once again by announcing “hollow promises and assurances”.
“In the LDF manifesto, they announced that 25 lakh jobs will be created that didn’t happen. Today he declared that within five years 20 lakh jobs will be created in the digital sector. This is a gimmick,” he said.
BJP state president K Surendran said the budget will push the state into an irrecoverable debt trap.