Bengal Budget: Thrust on rural sector, agriculture
With an eye on the upcoming panchayat elections in the state, West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra on Wednesday presented a Rs 6 crore deficit budget
With an eye on the upcoming panchayat elections in the state, West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra on Wednesday presented a Rs 6 crore deficit budget sans any fresh tax proposals focussing on agriculture and rural areas and showering sops in the form of social security schemes. Presenting his budget for 2018-19, Mitra set aside Rs 100 crore to avoid any distress sale of agricultural produce and proposed exemption on mutation fee in case of sell of farmland for agricultural activities, and increasing pension benefits for old farmers. "In order to avoid distress sale and ensure proper support prices for farmers' produce, ... I propose Rs 100 crore for this special fund," he told the state assembly.
After rolling out "Kanyashree" project with the objective of encouraging education of girls, the state introduced a new scheme "Rupashree" for marriage assistance to adult girls coming from economically weaker families with a budgetary allocation of Rs 1,500 crore. "I propose to extend a one-time assistance of Rs 25,000 to the family of the girl with an annual income upto Rs 1.5 lakh at the time of marriage after attaining the age of 18 years. This will benefit annually around six lakh families," he said. Mitra also proposed a monthly pension of Rs 1,000 for two lakh physically challenged persons with 40 percent disability and allocated Rs 250 crore for the scheme.
Admitting the budget's thrust was on the villages and agriculture, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, claimed it focused only on "development agenda". "Our industrial progress is based on continuous employment creation. We have given focus on villages and agriculture because rural areas constitute about 82-85 per cent of the state. The budget also provides funds for schemes on social security benefits," Banerjee told reporters.
Mitra criticised the erstwhile Left Front government for creating huge debt burden for the state and claimed that the Trinamool Congress government was able to reduce debt-GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio from 40.65 per cent in 2010-11 to 33.71 per cent. The total expenditure in Mitra's budget estimates for 2018-19 exceeded by about Rs six crore the total receipt of Rs 7,79,333.74 crore. He also claimed the state ensured creation of 8.92 lakh employment opportunities during the current fiscal, despite the demonetisation blow and unplanned implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) by the Centre. Mitra proposed "full exemption" of taxes on agricultural income for tea gardens for the next two financial years and removed education and other cess on tea production.
To boost the real estate sector, particularly the housing segment, he proposed to reduce stamp duty by one per cent on the value of wealth worth Rs 40 lakh to Rs one crore. West Bengal's opposition parties described the budget as "directionless" and "unrealistic". "This budget is only making a fool of the people. It is directionless. There are no new development programmes," said Leader of Opposition Abdul Mannan of the Congress.
Left Front legislature party leader Sujon Chakraborty said the approach towards tea gardens and agricultural land was "unrealistic". "There is no mention of prospective employment generation," he said. State BJP president Dilip Ghosh alleged that the government was only making cosmetic changes.
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