Kerala budget offers little to expatriates
The third straight budget presented by Kerala's Finance Minister Thomas Isaac has nothing much for the nearly two million overseas Keralites who provide the backbone of the state's economy by remitting more than Rs.200 billion ($5 billion) every year.
The total amount that has been set aside for the diaspora in the state's budget presented in the Kerala legislative assembly on Thursday was a mere Rs.34.5 million.
Of this, Rs.30 million will be spent on setting up a welfare fund.
"A draft bill for setting up a welfare fund is under the consideration of the government. I have also set aside Rs.20 lakh (Rs.2 million) for the first international youth festival going to be organised for non-resident children and youth. Another Rs.25 lakh (Rs.2.5 million) is also set aside as assistance to bring dead bodies of those who die abroad to Kerala," said Isaac.
Explaining the highlights of the budget, Isaac told reporters here this was not a dream budget.
"I am more interested in stabilising finances and a dream budget from me would take two more years."
A highlight of this budget was that Isaac has increased all welfare pensions to Rs.200, which would benefit a million Keralites.
The budget also provides Rs.200 million for a new insurance scheme for the poor.
It also proposed to spend Rs.100 million for extending the Asraya Scheme that will address poverty issues of the destitute across the state.
"To raise funds for the welfare schemes, I propose a one percent cess on sales and value-added tax, which would fetch Rs.100 crore (Rs.1 billion). The retail giants will have to pay an excess surcharge of 10 percent," the minister said.
Dismissing the budget as one that has nothing in it, Congress opposition leader Oommen Chandy said the Ashraya and health insurance programmes were started by the Congress-led government of the state.
"It is nice that Isaac has finally complemented our schemes. But he has to explain to the poorest of the poor why he did not include this in the previous two budgets," said Chandy.
"It is unfortunate that the common man, already suffering under heavy price rise, will have to bear an additional 1 percent cess, while giant retailers are let off with a minor surcharge. We demand that the cess be withdrawn immediately," Chandy told reporters here.
Isaac presented a Rs.6.27 billion deficit budget.