Rice at Re1/kg, gold for brides among announcements in Assam’s annual budget
The BJP-led government in Assam announced on Wednesday it will provide a kilo of rice for Re 1 to lakhs of families living below poverty line and gold to brides among the number of schemes in the state’s annual budget, which the opposition slammed as “election advertisement” in a poll year.
Faced with criticism for its stance on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, state government slashed the price of rice from ₹3/kilo for these families and said brides from communities where it is customary to provide gold at time of wedding will get the cost of one ‘tola’, around 10 gm of gold.
Assam has been witnessing protests from various groups opposed to the bill, which seeks to provide citizenship to religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
While chief ministers of neighbouring states like Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram have expressed reservations to the legislation in its present form, Assam’s BJP government has been criticised by these groups for failing to oppose it.
Delivering his budget speech for 2019-20, finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma stressed that the proposals were in consonance with the philosophy of greater well being of all citizens of Assam.
“We will provide rice at a further subsidised rate of Re 1 per kg instead of ₹3 per kg and this move will benefit 53 lakh households,” Sarma said in his speech.
As part of a new scheme, the government earmarked ₹300 crore to provide cost of one ‘tola’ of gold or nearly ₹38,000 to the brides. The benefit of the scheme can be availed after formally registering a marriage under Special Marriage (Assam) Rules, 1954 and will be limited to families whose yearly income is less than ₹5 lakh.
“While other parts of our country may be plagued with the curse of dowry, in our Assamese society, this is a voluntary act of assurance from the parents…this constitutes a part of the ‘stree-dhana’ (woman’s property),” Sarma said.
Free textbooks to those with a family income of less than ₹2 lakh per year till graduation, ₹50,000 as a subsidy for all education loans and electronic bikes for girls who clear Class 12 with over 60% marks are some of the announcements made for students.
Sarma also announced another new scheme where any woman, up to the age of 45 years, who loses her husband, will get ₹25,000 as immediate family assistance. The scheme would cost nearly ₹136 crore and expected to benefit 2.4 lakh widows.
The opposition, however, questioned whether some schemes would see the light of the day.
The gold scheme was slammed by Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia who said that instead of the yellow metal, the government should have promoted social marriages or given items of daily use which would be more beneficial for the brides.
“The announcement of giving gold is regressive. It could lead to an increase in bad practices in the society,” the Congress leader said.
“This budget is an election advertisement. Many of last year’s schemes are yet to be implemented, so we doubt the new schemes will also meet the same fate. The minister has looked at short term gains, but this budget would hurt Assam economically in the long run,” Saikia said.