Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Monday announced a string of sops in a please-all budget, giving a major push to the populist pitch of Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government ahead of the assembly elections due early next year.
Even as the economy of the border state has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic with revenue deficit rising to ₹20,730 crore (revised estimates 2020-21), the budget promises significant increase in capital expenditure, and focus on social security net, agri sector, farmers welfare, women, weaker sections and education.
Unveiling a ₹1.68 lakh crore budget with no new taxes and levies, the finance minister lavishly opened the purse strings of the debt-choked government in a bid to reach out to almost every section of the electorate. From farmers to employees and school going students to elderly population, the budget has something for all.
Dedicating the state budget to farmers protesting against Centre’s three new agri laws, Manpreet announced the next phase of the ‘crop loan waiver scheme’. An allocation of ₹1,712 crore has been made for the purpose. Loans of ₹1,186 crore of 1.13 lakh farmers and ₹526 crore of landless farm workers will be waived, he said. Already, the state government has given a debt relief of ₹4,624 crore to 5.83 lakh small and marginal growers. To improve the income of farmers, Badal also announced a new scheme ‘Kamyaab Kisan Khushaal Punjab’.
The other major budget proposal is implementation of sixth pay commission’s recommendations for the government employees from July. Expecting the submission of the report of the pay commission soon, Badal said the recommendations of the pay panel will be implemented from July 1 this year. “I also announce to pay the arrears, if any, in a staggered manner of which the first installment shall be paid in October 2021 and second installment in January 2022,” said Badal in his speech.
The government promised to continue free power to over 14 lakh farmers that will cost ₹7,180 crore in coming financial year.
With a speech that lasted 105 minutes and was laced with some couplets, Badal also announced a free travel facility for women in the state-owned undertaking buses.
In line with its poll promise, financial assistance under ashirwad scheme (to SC girls, daughters of widows of any caste at the time of wedding and to SC widows/divorcees at the time of re-marriage) was increased from ₹21,000 to ₹51,000. Last year, there were near 60,000 beneficiaries of this policy.
In what will directly touch nearly 30 lakh people, including 13 lakh from Scheduled Castes, the budget proposes to increase monthly pension of elderly, widows, orphan and people with disability to ₹1,500, up from ₹750.
Badal said ₹4,000 crore (72% increase over last year) have been allocated to fund social security pension.
Not just this, in what Badal said “tribute to our freedom fighters”, the monthly pension has been hiked from ₹7,500 to ₹9,400.
The budget has also tried to boost holistic development the urban sector with ₹7,192 crore allocation (an increase of 68% over 2020-21).
A sum of ₹3,822 crore has been set aside for strengthening the health infrastructure, said Badal adding the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored the importance of health infrastructure and related services.
Manpreet also gave a push to the promotion of Punjabi language as he proposed to double the award money of Punjabi Sahit ratan and Shiromani award from ₹10 lakh to ₹20 lakh and from ₹5 lakh to 10 lakh, respectively.
Though the budgetary proposals will bring smiles on a sizeable section of the electorate, there are numerous financial challenges that can’t be overlooked. For example, the outstanding debt is set to rise to ₹2.82 lakh crore in next fiscal and the burden of committed financial liabilities has been mounting.
As per the bulky 101-pages budget that Badal “dedicated to the farmers”, the government expenditure is ballooning and the revenue receipts are dwindling leading to revenue deficit.
The FM has projected ₹8,622 crore revenue deficit in the coming fiscal.
“Punjab’s economy is today stronger and more stable because this government had the courage to confront the problems and take difficult decisions,” said Badal, who presented fifth consecutive budget and held previous Akali Dal-BJP government responsible for having “ bankrupted” Punjab.
“Our government took responsible decisions, shunned short -term fixes and pursued a long term economic plan,” he said amid applause from the treasury benches.
While 10 SAD legislators had been suspended earlier, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs were present, who were all ears.
As per the budget document, the interest payments alone will consume 17% of the total expenditure, salaries and wages (24%), pension and other retirement benefits (10%), power subsidy (9%), while 12% will be spent on creation of assets.