Several incentives for meritorious students from economically backward classes, including Scootys for girls, formed a significant part of the fourth state budget presented by Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje on Wednesday.
However, Raje did not announce any change in local taxes in the wake of the Centre’s announcement to introduce the Goods and Services Tax (GST) from July 1 – with the exception of a 15% hike in value-added tax on cigarettes. Consequently, unimpressed economists termed the proposals “business as usual”.
In a budget presented the day she turned 64, Raje announced that Scootys – a generic name given to mini-scooters – would be awarded to meritorious girls who score over 90% in the Class 10 and Class 12 examinations of the Rajasthan Board of Secondary Education. As many as 400 girls from each of the three streams – science, arts and commerce – will get the two-wheeler and a citation if their parents’ annual income is less than Rs 2.5 lakh, she clarified.
Raje also announced a slew of other incentives for meritorious students from the economically backward category – Rs 15,000 lump sum each to the top 100 students of Class 10 and 12; Rs 25,000 to each of the top 100 students who gain admission to IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, NLUs and IISc; Rs 30,000 to each of the top 100 candidates of the state civil services exam; and Rs 50,000 each to 50 students topping the civil services exam.
The budget, incidentally, was a paperless one – with copies of the document being distributed to members on pen drives and CDs.
In the budget speech that lasted over two-and-a-half hours, Raje said the state was ready for the rollout of the GST this year. In view of the sluggish growth in the real-estate market, she announced concessions on stamp duty; relief in registration fees for various categories of deeds and sale agreements; and 100% relief on outstanding payments to urban local bodies.
Raje said lease holders of local bodies, development authorities and urban improvement trusts will get 100% relief on the outstanding lease rent. She waived off the interest and penalty on outstanding urban development tax if the amount was paid in lump sum before September 30. Domestic consumers of drinking water would also avail of 100% relief on interest and penalty if the pending dues were paid in full before June 30.
Raje announced new drinking water schemes to provide potable water to 2,500 villages; one lakh new agricultural connections in the next two years; a sum of Rs 7 crore to conserve leopards and check human-animal conflicts; Rs 10 crore to developing grasslands for the Great Indian Bustard in the Desert National Park; relaxation in norms for micro, small and medium enterprises as well as start-ups in public procurement; and Rs 500 crore for public utilities in mining-affected areas. Buoyed by the success of the Global Rajasthan Agritech Meet in November 2016, Raje announced more events of the kind at the divisional headquarters level in the next two years.
Later, the chief minister tweeted: “Understanding the challenges of a Woman to feeling the travails of the Specially-abled—#RajBudget2017 will give wings to the dreams of All.”
However, the Congress termed it as a lacklustre budget. “There’s nothing in it for the youth or the farmers,” said Rameshwar Dudi, leader of the opposition in the Rajasthan assembly.
Economists did not seem very thrilled either. Professor VS Vyas, former economic advisor to the prime minister, termed it as a “continuation of an old trend”. “(There was) no effort to mobilise resources, no boost to any particular sector. It was only about some additions here and some deletions there,” he said.
The government pegged the fiscal deficit at 2.99% of the gross state domestic product for 2017-18. This is despite the revenue deficit of Rs 13,528.30 crore, Raje said.
Professor Vyas also criticised the Rs 13,589.84-crore surplus that found itself in the capital budget. “This means the government did not spend enough on creating infrastructure,” he said.