West Bengal has reason to cheer as budget day approaches. Its long pending demand that the interest rate on loans taken by states from the National Small Savings Fund (NSSF) be reduced, is likely to be conceded.
Sources in the state finance ministry said the interest, which was as high as 13.5 per cent in 1999-2000, and now stands at 10.5 per cent, may be reduced to 7.5-8 per cent, as the 12th Finance Commission had recommended.
The state government had been pointing out that though the deposits in small savings schemes go into the union treasury to form the NSSF, it is actually collected by the states. It is a bit thick if states then have to pay high interest rates to borrow from this same fund!
A section of industrialists in the state have also pleaded for making stamp duty for property registration uniform across the country, instead of leaving it to the discretion of the states. “Right now, many of our clients buy property in West Bengal but register the sale in some other state, since these states charge lower stamp duty than our 7 per cent,” said Harsh Neotia, Chairman, Ambuja Realty .
Economist Abhirup Sarkar of Indian Statistical Institute said that the state should receive Budgetary allocation for a second airport and a deep sea port. “Everybody knows that Haldia does not have the required capaci ty Maybe a second port in the . Bay of Bengal should come up immediately. Also, we need funds for expanding the Kolkata airport or for building a second one”, said Sarkar.
Another sector that needs focus in the Union Budget, according to Neotia, is tourism. “There are so many countries which survive only on tourism. Why not encourage tourism in our state by giving a few sops to investors in the hospitali ty sector?” he suggested.
Kerala too hopes the union budget will provide some incentives to encourage tourism in the state. Nearly 80 per cent of the state’s budget outlay of Rs 25,000 crore, is used up in debt servicing, salary and pensions, hence the state is heavily dependent on foreign remittances and sectors like tourism. Kerala’s hospitality sector is one of the fastest growing in the world.
“Kerala is now a must-see destination for world tourists. We have submitted many proposals to the Centre. Last year we received Rs 48 crore, this year we expect a substantial hike,” said state Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
Locals hope the fact that the Left is a crucial component of the UPA at the centre will make some difference. “Due to our social advancement we are always neglected in the union budget. At least now we hope there will be some special consideration to address our difficulties,” State Finance Minister Dr Thomas Issac, an economist himself.