A Rs 20,000-crore worth stimulus package for COVID mitigation and Rs 1,000 crore for free vaccination were the key highlights of K.N. Balagopal's first ever Kerala budget. Amid the uncertainty prevailing around COVID-19 scenario, the finance minister has prioritised strengthening the health care sector in his budget presentation on Friday.
The Rs 20,000 crore for COVID relief has been announced to address the health, social and financial challenges to tide over the pandemic. Separately, the budget has set aside Rs 2,500 crore to deal with exigencies in the healthcare sector.
While Rs 1,000 crore has been allocated for free vaccination for all above 18 years, Balagopal added that the government will bear all additional expenses towards universal free vaccination.
Following the footsteps of his predecessor Thomas Isaac, the new finance minister under the Pinarayi Vijayan government 2.0 has also focused on social sectors in the budget presentation. He announced a Rs 500 crore in revival package for the coastal areas that recently suffered widespread destruction due to sea incursion and incessant rains following the advent of Cyclone Taukte.
Here are the key highlights from the maiden budget:
- Rs 20,000 crore COVID-19 revival package
- Rs 2,500 crore loan package for farmers; Rs 1,000 cr loan through Kudumbashree
- Monthly stipend of Rs 2,000 to orphaned children till they attain the age of 18 in addition to the one time payment of Rs 3 lakh
- Rs 50 lakh allocated as seed money for the proposed Centre for Disease Control
- Settlement of outstanding rubber subsidy dues
- Rs 10 crore allocation for eradication of extreme poverty
- Proposal for five agriculture processing parks in Kerala.
- The Kerala State Financial Corporation to extend Rs 400 crore as low-interest loans to help revive the tourism industry and restore lost jobs.
- Rs 4 crore to set up monuments for veteran politicians and former Ministers K. R. Gowri Amma and R. Balakrishna Pillai.
- Rs 5 crore allocated for setting up smart kitchens for the benefit of home makers.
- The government proposes to convert the KSRTC buses to CNG models. Rs 100 crore allocated for the purpose.
- Rs 100 crore venture capital fund to help start-ups and small and medium scale investors.
- Rs 5 crore to conduct a detailed study to improve moffusil roads, reduce accidents and ease traffic congestion.
- Proposal to acquire 10 hydrogen powered public transport buses at a cost of Rs 10 crore.
- Rs 15 crore set aside to underwrite the bank loans availed by electric two wheelers for newspaper distributors, fish vendors and couriers working in the gig economy.
- The budget allocation towards various welfare schemes for expatriate Keralites is enhanced to Rs 170 crore.
- With emphasis on knowledge-based economy, Rs 300 crore has been set earmarked for the purpose in the budget.
Despite the package allocations, Balagopal did not propose any additional taxes on Friday. "We cannot progress without an increase in tax and non-tax revenues. But this is not the time to increase taxes," Balagopal said. "New revenue sources will be found after Kerala recovers from the pandemic," he added, hinting that new tax announcements might be made in the future.
However, it remains to be seen how the government funds its budget proposals. The finance minister said that Kerala has to receive around Rs 4,700 in GST compensation from the Centre.
Balagopal presented a 'revised budget' and vote on account with certain necessary changes and additions to the full budget presented by former Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac for the 2021-22 fiscal on January 15.
Earlier, Balagopal had told the media that the Left government will fulfill the promises in its election manifesto. "There are financial constraints which we are all facing due to the pandemic. However, the previous government stood with the people and provided good governance. We will stand with the people and fulfil the promises given in the election manifesto," Balagopal had said.
The previous government had presented a welfare-oriented budget hiking social welfare pensions, revising salary of government employees and giving relief for farmers besides making hefty allocations for higher education, employment and digital economy.