Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa gave a major push to the populist agenda of the Akali Dal-BJP government as he announced a string of sops in a please-all budget, clearly with an eye on the assembly elections due early next year.
While opening the coffers to reach out to every section of the electorate, Dhindsa presented a tax-free budget in the Vidhan Sabha on Tuesday.
However, as per the 44-page budget document, the government expenditure is ballooning and the outstanding debt mounting while the revenue receipts are dwindling. The result: A staggering Rs 7,983 crore revenue deficit and Rs 13,087 crore fiscal deficit.
At the epicentre of the Rs 86,387-crore budget proposals of the Parkash Singh Badal-led government are a slew of new doles for women, youth, farmers, Scheduled Caste (SC) students, poorest of the poor living in 8,263 dera and dhanis, rural schools, industry, real estate and spinning industry.
With “growing” debt becoming problem for the state, Dhindsa, 42, in his over 90-minute speech projected outstanding debt rising to Rs 1.38 lakh crore by end of next fiscal, up from Rs 1.24 lakh crore expected in current fiscal.
The size of annual plan has been projected at Rs 25,479 crore for 2016-17, with an increase of 20 per cent over current fiscal’s plan of Rs 21,174 crore.
Under the vote-clinching populist steps, there are 19 new sops directly targeting the voters and having financial implication of over Rs 1,000 crore. But the cash-strapped government will suffer a direct hit of nearly Rs 1,700 crore from a dozen- odd tax rebates and few other ‘welfare steps’ such as 1.65 lakh new tubewell connections, 15% reduction in collector rates and farmers’ provident fund-cum-pension scheme.
“The focus of this budget is to address problems of all sections of the society, while maintaining fiscal prudence. There will be no loss in revenue generation from the tax rebates. On the contrary, the tax rebates will create a positive sentiment,” the finance minister said later in a press conference, admitting that reduction in the revenue deficit remained a challenge.
A majority chunk of Dhindsa’s budget document focuses on welfare schemes with women empowerment topping the list and thrust on a raft of steps targeting farmers, weaker sections, real estate and spinning industry and various schemes such as Mukh Mantri Tirath Darshan Yatra.
Under a new scheme ‘Swasth Kanya Yojna’, free school bags containing stationery items will be given to girl students of government schools from class 1 to class 12, besides “Kanya healthcare kits’ will be provided on monthly basis through vending machines.
The rate of interest has been reduced from 9% to 5% per annum on Rs 50,000 loan provided under Mai Bhago women empowerment scheme for women.
The government has reached out to working women by deciding to construct three new women hostels with day-care facility for children.
While Rs 79 crore will be spent on utensils for mahila mandals, NGOs and clubs, 638 new anganwadi centres and 20 mini-anganwadi centres will be opened across the state generating jobs ( 20 supervisors and 1,276 workers and helpers).
In a bid to target the youth, 4,000 modern gymnasiums in towns and villages, free sports kits to youth at an estimated cost of Rs 275 crore are part of the sops, besides Rs 5 lakh interest- free educational loan to SC and BC youth of families with Rs 3 lakh annual income.
Also, the government has proposed to bear interest burden of 4% on Rs 50,000 loan that farmers having land holding up to 5 acre have take per crop. It will cost government about Rs 200 crore.