West Bengal finance minister Chandrima Bhattacharya on Friday tabled the 2022-23 state budget, announcing tax and stamp duty exemption for the tea industry, electric vehicles and the housing sector.
But this is for the first time that the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government did not announce a single new social sector scheme.
Eight lakh more applicants will get widow pension, the finance minister said in her maiden budget speech.
The state government made the highest budget allocation for school education at Rs 35,126.13 crore, followed by panchayat and rural development (Rs 25,181.83 crore), child and women development (Rs 19,238.27 crore), health and family welfare (Rs 17,576.9 crore), municipal and urban development (Rs 12,818.99) and home and hill affairs at Rs 12,557.01 crore.
The child and women development department is the nodal department for the government’s two flagship social sector schemes — Kanyasree and Lakshmir Bhandar.
Chief minister Banerjee claimed that the budget was tabled with Rs 28,000 crore revenue deficit since the Central government was not paying its dues to the state.
The finance minister said the state government will continue with all the social sector schemes started since Mamata Banerjee became chief minister Bengal budgetin 2011.
In her budget speech, Bhattacharya said, “We can take pride in having the most comprehensive social protection program in the country. Apart from providing subsidised and free ration and health protection through Swasthya Sathi to more than 10 crore people, today we are providing social pension to more than 70 lakh beneficiaries at an annual expenditure of Rs 9,000 crore.”
The government, she claimed, has also guaranteed assured income support to 1.53 crore women aged between 25 and 60 through the Lakshmir Bhandar scheme at an annual expenditure of Rs 10,000 crore.
“Apart from providing old age and disability pension, we are also providing widow pension to more than 13 lakh beneficiaries at an annual outlay of Rs1,560 crore.
The government has received 8 lakh more applications for widow pension through various outreach initiatives like the Duare Sarkar. We are happy to announce that we have decided to provide widow pension to all the 8 lakh applicants from April 1, taking the total coverage of widow pension to more than 21 lakh. I propose to provide Rs. 960 crore in this year’s budget for the purpose.”
Also, the finance minister announced to exempt payment of rural employment cess under the West Bengal Rural Employment and Production Act and education cess under the West Bengal Primary Education Act to “provide relief to the tea industry, tea estates and lakhs of their workers”. “Also, to give relief to tea gardens, especially the small ones, I propose to waive agricultural income tax for 2022-23,” she added.
To incentivize investment in battery-operated two- and four-wheel electric vehicles, she announced to exempt registration fee and road tax for the next 2 years.
“We want to incentivize reduction in carbon footprint. To bring down dependence on petrol and diesel, I propose to exempt registration fee and road tax on all categories of CNG vehicles for the next 2 years. To give relief to home buyers, our government had given 2% rebate on stamp duty and 10% rebate on circle rate of land/property in 2021-22. This relief is coming to an end on March 31. Home buyers have been affected badly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Keeping the interests of home buyers in mind, I propose to extend the 2% rebate on stamp duty and 10% rebate on circle rate of land/property for another 6 months till September 30,” she added.
In the budget proposal, Bhattacharya pegged the revenue deficit at Rs 28,279.67 crore without explaining how the government would make up for it.
Later, CM’s finance adviser Amit Mitra, also a former finance minister, said in a press conference. “We have only 1.65% percent revenue deficit of the total gross domestic product (GDP).”
CM Mamata Banerjee said, “We are yet to receive Rs 90,000 crore from the Center in dues. They should release our funds first.”
Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari said, “The only thing they did in the budget was to condemn the Centre. The state government could not handle the situation during Amphan. The situation was handled by deploying the Army. Now she (CM) says the Center did not help.”
He further said, “Small traders are frustrated and there is no land policy. There is no mention of setting up new industries. The CM made false claims about old age allowance. Of the old age allowance, Rs 600 is given by the Center and Rs 200 by the state. Nearly 3 crore people get this allowance in Uttar Pradesh. But the CM says this allowance is not given anywhere except Bengal.”