Punjab budget 2019-20: Fuel prices cut; FM tries to woo farmers, youth

Chandigarh | With the Lok Sabha elections around the corner, the Congress-led Punjab government cut fuel prices, petrol by Rs 5 and diesel by Rs 1 a litre, and announced a host of new schemes for farmers, youth, industry, Scheduled Caste population in the state budget presented on Monday.

Deciding against levying any new tax, state Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal highlighted “persistent efforts” of the Amarinder Singh-led government to bring the state on a “fiscal recovery path”. He also accused the previous SAD-BJP government of leaving the state in a “fiscal mess”.

Badal presented the budget with a total outlay of Rs 1,58,493 crore, including a ‘ways and means’ transaction of Rs 32,000 crore. The transaction is a credit facility extended by the RBI to the states.

Though with little “fiscal space” in the wake of high committed expenditures, the finance minister tried to provide something to each segment with the launch of new schemes such as ‘Make in Punjab’, ‘Mera Kamm, Mera Maan’ and laid thrust on improving rural and urban infrastructure, besides focusing on agriculture, health and education.

Badal’s Budget Speech was marred by vociferous protest by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members against Local Government Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s remarks following the Pulwama attack. Due to disruptions caused by Opposition members, the speaker had to adjourn the House after naming SAD and BJP members.

In a major move, Badal while banking on buoyancy in revenue and better cash flow management announced to bring down petrol prices by Rs 5 per litre and diesel by Rs 1 per litre by resorting to rationalising of value-added tax (VAT) rates on petroleum products.

Badal, while later talking to reporters, said with Rs 1 reduction per litre, diesel in Punjab will be the cheapest in north India and it will be effective from Monday midnight.

“We will take it up with the Centre to align (VAT rates of petrol in) Chandigarh with (that of) Punjab,” he said adding that a target of Rs 6,300 crore of collections from VAT had been fixed for 2019-20 which was the same as in 2018-19.

With his speech laced with couplets of famous poets Allama Iqbal and Jagannath Azad, Badal said the state government was committed to reduce “crushing burden” of debt and “revitalise” the economy.

Already facing opposition ire over farmers’ issue, the finance minister announced an increase of allocation for the agriculture and allied sector to Rs 13,643 crore.

Earmarking Rs 3,000 crore for the farm debt waiver scheme, Badal announced to waive the loans of landless farm labourers and the families of farmers who committed suicides, while assuring the House that this government would take necessary steps to relieve farmers of its debt stress.

The allocation for free power subsidy has been kept at Rs 8,969 crore for 2019-20.

For sugarcane farmers and crop residue management, the FM proposed a sum of Rs 355 crore and Rs 375 crore, respectively.

Similarly, the fund allocations for education, health, rural and urban infrastructure have been proposed to be raised in the range of 9-36 per cent.

Lauding the government for offering 1.13 lakh jobs under its employment generation scheme, Badal announced to launch a new scheme ‘Mera Kaam, Mera Maan’ with Rs 90 crore of allocation wherein unemployed youth between the age group of 18 and 35 years will be assisted by the district bureaus of employment and enterprise for both skilling and wage employment for a specified minimum days in the year.

To keep the youth away from drugs, Badal announced to set up block-level multi-purpose stadiums in Ludhiana, Rajpura and other places.

A new policy ‘Make in Punjab’ is being drafted to promote goods manufactured in the state. “As per this policy, in a public procurement order, purchase preference shall be given to the local suppliers up to 50 per cent of the total quantity, provided that their goods have a minimum local content of 40 per cent and their bids come under 15 per cent margin of purchase preference above the lowest bid,” Badal said in his speech.

With Punjab having the highest proportion of Scheduled Caste (SC) population, Badal said the state government accords the top priority to safeguard the interests of these vulnerable sections of the society.

“My government proposes a sum of Rs 1,228 crore for various welfare schemes including educational, socio-economic and other development programmes,” said Badal.

A sum of Rs 938.71 crore has been allocated for various scholarship schemes for SC/BPL.

A sum of Rs 1,916 crore has been proposed for subsidised power to SC, backward caste, non-SC below poverty line population, freedom fighters and domestic categories.

The total outstanding debt of the state has been projected at Rs 2,29,612 crore for 2019-20, compared with an outstanding debt of Rs 2,12,276 crore as for 2018-19 (Revised Estimate).

However, Badal blamed the previous Akali-BJP government for its “irresponsible fiscal actions” for the accumulated debt.

Badal also told the Assembly that as against the allowed net borrowing limit of Rs 17,335 crore for financial year 2019-20, the debt servicing is whooping Rs 30,309 crore.

“The servicing of the state’s huge debt pre-empted its major revenue receipts, leaving it with little resources for credible efforts,” said Badal.

The finance minister pegged the revenue deficit and fiscal deficit at Rs 11,687 crore (2.02 per cent of GSDP) and Rs 19,658 crore (3.40 per cent of GSDP), respectively, for the year 2019-20.

“When I presented the first budget of this government in 2017-18, there was an unfunded gap of Rs 10,273 crore which was brought down to Rs 4175 crore in 2018-19. While we see a small carry forward of our liabilities to the next year, for 2019-20, there is now much reduced unfunded gap of Rs 2,323 crore,” Badal said in his speech.

The total revenue receipts have been estimated at Rs 78,510 crore for the next financial year, against Rs 70,399 crore for 2018-19.

The total receipts of the state have been pegged at Rs 1,54,170 crore, Badal said.

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