With the assembly elections due in four months, Kerala finance minister TM Thomas Issac presented the last budget of the Pinarayi Vijayan government for now(PTI)
With the assembly elections due in four months, Kerala finance minister TM Thomas Issac presented the last budget of the Pinarayi Vijayan government for now(PTI)

Kerala earmarks fund for mental health

The state has earmarked Rs.64 crore for mental health programmes, usually a neglected sector. According to a survey conducted by the state mental health department last year, at least 15% of the youth between 18 and 25 years suffered from depression and other mental health problems.
By Ramesh Babu, Thiruvanathapuram
UPDATED ON JAN 16, 2021 04:23 AM IST

A chit fund scheme to refurbish middle-class kitchen, special scheme for the mental health sector, hike in welfare pension, sops for start-ups and three industrial corridors were among some of the measures announced by Kerala finance minister TM Thomas Issac in the state budget for the next fiscal year on Friday.

With the assembly elections due in four months, Issac presented the last budget of the Pinarayi Vijayan government for now, assuring that money won’t be a constraint for welfare programmes and some of the new measures will help lift the state’s consumerist economy reeling under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The state has earmarked Rs.64 crore for mental health programmes, usually a neglected sector, he said. According to a survey conducted by the state mental health department last year, at least 15% of the youth between 18 and 25 years suffered from depression and other mental health problems.

Besides this, 4,000 new posts will be created in the health sector, Issac said.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the state has the fifth highest suicide rate in the country with 24.3 deaths per 100,000 population.

“We have given special emphasis on mental health care. Low-income families really struggle with persons with mental disabilities. Rs.50 crore has been earmarked to take care of these families while the rest of the fund will be allocated to modernise existing mental health centres,” the state finance minister said.

Another highlight of the budget was the chit fund scheme to modernise middle-class kitchens. The ‘smart kitchen fund’ will help women purchase household items without difficulty and the government will partly fund the Kerala State Financial Enterprises, which is successfully running a number of lending schemes in the state.

He also said free food kits which are being distributed in the wake of the pandemic will continue for some time and 5 million families will get additional rice for Rs.15 and Rs.10 per kg, respectively. Political observers said that it was the free kits that played an important role in the Left’s recent victory in the local body election.

While the finance minister announced three industrial corridors worth 50,000 crore, he did not elaborate on how it will be financed. Similarly, welfare pensions will be hiked from Rs.1,500 to Rs.1,600 and the elderly will get free medicines at their doorsteps without any hassle, he said.

The government has also decided to withdraw 1% flood cess on transactions amid demands from several trade bodies. Many sops were also announced for start-ups. In government tenders, these firms will be given preference and the government will bear at least 50% of the loss to encourage innovation, Isaac said.

A package was also announced for the ailing hospitality sector with interest-free loans for operators. Pension for expats who returned to the state was hiked to Rs.3,000 per month.

The Congress said the budget lacked substance. “It is a futile exercise eying the polls. There is no dearth of announcements but there are no funds. In the ease of doing business, the state is ranked 28,” said Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala.

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