Bengal budget woos SC, ST, youth, MSMEs with new schemes

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Kolkata, Feb 10 (IANS) Presenting what could be its last full-fledged budget ahead of next year’s Assembly polls, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee government on Monday proposed free electricity for the poorer sections and came up with sops to the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe people, unemployed youths and the MSME sector.

Placing the Rs 255,677 crore budget proposals in the Assembly, Finance Minister Amit Mitra also promised free provident fund to the unorganised work force and waived agricultural income tax to the tea gardens for the next two fiscals 2020-21 and 2021-22.

With the election year not far off, the political focus of the budget seemed to centre around wooing Scheduled Tribes – who constitute a vast section of voters in the Jangalmahal districts in the state’s western parts as also in the northern part of the state, the two regions where the BJP decimated the ruling Trinamool Congress in last year’s Lok Sabha polls. The Scheduled Castes, who also seemingly voted in strength for the BJP in a number of constituencies, were also prominently in the budget radar.

Mitra proposed three new universities – one in the name of tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda in ST-dominated Jhargram district, another named after Indian Constitution’s architect B.R. Ambedkar to be set up in an SC-dominated area and the other one for ‘advancement of education’ among OBCs – over the next two years.

He announced a new scheme ‘Bandhu Prakalpa’, under which all people from the SC community aged above 60 years and not covered under any other pension scheme, will be given a monthly pension of Rs 1,000. Mitra allocated Rs 2,500 crore for the scheme that is expected to benefit around 21 lakh people

Similarly, all people from the ST community, who are aged above 60 years, and not covered under any other pension scheme, will be given a monthly pension of Rs 1,000 under the Jai Johar Prakalpa. Mitra said the scheme would benefit four lakh people, and earmarked Rs 500 crore for it.

For the tribals of tea estates, Mitra proposed a housing scheme “Cha Sundari” that would benefit 3 lakh permanent workers.

He also announced a new scheme ‘Hasir Alo’ for providing free electricity to all those poor domestic consumers whose quarterly consumption of electricity is up to 75 units.

“This will benefit 35 lakh poor families and has an allocation of Rs 200 crore,” he said.

Another new scheme ‘Karmasathi Prakalpa’, with an allocation of Rs 500 crore, aims to make unemployed youth “self-reliant”.

“Under the scheme, every year for three years, one lakh unemployed youth will be assisted. They will be provided soft loan and subsidy for taking up any new income generating project up to Rs 2 lakh by state-owned Cooperative Bank.

“It is expected that unemployed youth, assisted under the scheme, will be able to take up small manufacturing or trading activities and will become self-reliant,” the Finance Minister said.

The budget proposed a Rs 100 crore worth fresh incentive scheme ‘Bangashree Prakalpa’ to be introduced from April 1. MSMEs which started operation from April 1, 2019, would be eligible.

Mitra said free of cost provident fund would be provided to the unorganised labour force. Accordingly, the state government will bear the beneficiary contribution of Rs 25 per month besides its own contribution of Rs 30 per month. Mitra provided Rs 500 crore for the inititive, claiming it would benefit 1.5 crore families.

–IANS

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