Sops for OBCs, women, farmers and youth in Maharashtra pre-assembly poll budget
Maharasthra finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar on Tuesday tabled an election budget in the state legislature, making a pitch to specific sections of society such as the Other Backward Class (OBC), Dhangars (shepherds), women, farmers and youth, with an eye on the upcoming Assembly polls in October. The budget with a total outlay of ₹4.04 lakh crore – ₹32,034 crore more from last year – does not have big-bang announcements, but offers sops galore for these targeted sections for maximum impact at the hustings.
Mungantiwar had tabled an interim budget of ₹4.03 lakh crore in February this year, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Then expenditure for the first four months of the fiscal, worth ₹1.47 lakh crore, was approved, while additional expenditure will get approved now. On Tuesday, the finance minister, constrained by the 7th pay commission payout and drought burden, made a very modest hike of ₹1,586 crore to the interim budget figures, but announced several sops and schemes within the budget.
The Other Backward Class (OBC), considered to be the BJP’s traditional support base, and the Dhangars (shepherd) community, which are seen to be upset with the party over the 16% Maratha reservation, have been offered concessions . The budget allocates ₹200 crore for construction of 36 hostels for OBC youth. Another ₹200 crore has been allocated to the Maharashtra State Other Backward Class Finance Commission, a public sector undertaking, which can offer loans to small OBC entrepreneurs and youth. A scholarship scheme was announced to cover 2.20 lakh schoolgoing OBC girls.
The Dhangars, who have been demanding inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe category, were promised 10,000 homes, with an allocation of ₹1,000 crore for this year, along with implementation of another 22 development schemes on the lines of the tribal community. Overall, the budget for OBCs, Marathas and Vimukt Jatis and Nomadic Tribes stands at around ₹2,814 crore.
Mungantiwar announced a slew of measures for empowerment and safety of women, including ₹200 crore for self-employment scheme for widows and abandoned women; a ₹252-crore women safety initiative programme; and ₹528 crore to implement Navtejaswini rural livelihood programme that will be implemented through five lakh self-help groups. The socially deprived and poorest sections such as the homeless, widows, elderly and disabled will see a hike in their monthly pensions under two existing schemes from ₹600 to ₹1,000. And, widows with up to two children will get assistance of up to ₹1,200 a month.
In a bid to tackle complaints of youth unemployment, the state announced a new scheme, the Chief Minister Employment Generation programme, under the 2019 new industrial policy and promised creation of 60 lakh new jobs. But, in terms of specifics, the budget offered ₹300 crore for a project to set up micro, small and medium industrial parks all tehsils, starting with a pilot project in 50 tehsils first.
For farmers, Mungantiwar promised an extension of the ongoing loan waiver scheme, but did not spell out additional outlay or details of the extension. The government has, so far, allocated ₹24,102 crore towards loan waiver.
Within the agriculture and allied activities budget ( ₹16,179 crore), the government announced ₹2,220 crore to create value chains to connect agriculturists with companies; extending insurance cover of farmers to their families and covering 5.5 crore people in the existing Gopinath Munde Farmers Accident Insurance Scheme ( ₹210 crore); ₹2,720 crore for irrigation projects under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana and ₹1,531 crore for completing irrigation projects in suicide-prone districts etc.
Beyond the sops however, there is little vision or direction in the budget document. For the record, Mungantiwar announced revival of Maharashtra Economic Development Council, a think tank, to guide the state to achieve its ambitious target of making Maharashtra a trilliondollar economy ( ₹70 lakh crore) by 2025, which the Opposition has debunked.
Fadnavis, however, termed the 2019-20 budget as “balanced and inclusive”. “According to our commitment since the very first year, major allocation has been for farm and farmers, water and irrigation. If you study all our five budgets, not just this, you will see an increase in actual spending and not just allocation. This year’s budget is very balanced, while thinking of employment generation, we have considered all segments of the society, not just youth, but also women, divyang etc,’’ said chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Among the major budgetary allocations, the state has kept aside ₹6,410 crore as assistance for just drought and natural disasters. Nearly, ₹71,206 crore has been allocated for education, sports (the figure is big because this includes salaries for teachers under seventh pay commission), ₹29,439 crore for urban development, ₹14,810 crore for public health and family welfare and ₹16,025 crore for public works department etc.
‘Incomplete’, ‘half-baked effort’: Oppn on budget
The Opposition panned the budget as `”incomplete” and “a half-baked” effort. State NCP chief and former finance minister Jayant Patil said: “This is an incomplete budget. There is no serious provision for any sector, but a poor attempt has been made to appease those sections of the society who are unhappy with them ahead of the polls.’’
Congress state president Ashok Chavan termed the budget as “election jumle baazi”. “This is the third revenue deficit budget of this government. This year, the revenue deficit is ₹20, 292 crore and the debt is ₹4.71 lakh crore. The budget offers no hope for farmers, tribals, women, Dalits, youth other than empty promises. In a drought year, it was expected that the government would announce a complete loan waiver for farmers, but they have got nothing,” said Chavan.
The budget books paint a worrisome picture for the state with a revenue deficit of ₹20,292 crore (largely thanks to the 7th pay commission payout) and an estimated debt of ₹4.71 lakh crore. The salaries, pensions and interest payouts now stand at Rs1.86 lakh crore, 59.37% of the revenue receipts.
Mungantiwar, however, said, “Our budget has something for everyone, but the focus is on farmers, women, youth and several deprived sections of society. Despite the criticism, our debt is within the fiscal norms and we plan to curtail the revenue deficit with some austerity measures.”