Himachal CM presents populist, deficit budget of Rs 35,783-cr

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Shimla, March 10 (IANS) With an eye to woo common man ahead of the assembly elections, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on Friday presented a populist but deficit Rs 35,783-crore budget for 2017-18 with no new taxes.

The Chief Minister, who also holds the finance portfolio, announced an additional Dearness Allowance (DA) of three per cent to regular employees in the pre-revised scales from July 2016. This is in addition to the two per cent DA released in July 2016.

“The increased dearness relief of three per cent will also be released to the government pensioners. The government will bear an additional expenditure of Rs 180 crore,” he said.

Presenting his 20th budget spread over his record six chief ministerial stints in the state, Singh announced additional interim relief of four per cent on basic pay and basic pension from August 1 this year. This will benefit employees and pensioners to the tune of Rs 260 crore per annum.

Official sources said this financial bonanza would benefit over 250,000 government employees and pensioners.

Pleasing unemployed youths, a major electoral promise made by his government in December 2012 assembly polls, Singh announced grant of an allowance of Rs 1,000 per month to those unemployed who have minimum 10+2 qualification or above.

Likewise, an allowance of Rs 1,500 per month would be given to the youths with physical disabilities. Both allowances will benefit 150,000 people.

“I propose a budget of Rs 150 crore for both allowances in addition to Rs 100 crore for the Skill Development Allowance in 2017-18,” Singh said.

About the countrywide implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the octogenarian Chief Minister, in his over four-hour-long speech, said it would be implemented in the country in the next fiscal.

“This will bring uniformity of tax rates all over the country and create a common market. The government of Himachal Pradesh has supported the introduction of GST. The SGST (State Goods and Services Tax) bill will be introduced in this august house, once the model bill is approved by the GST Council.”

He announced that exiting industries would be charged entry tax at the rate of half per cent like the new industrial units on inputs instead of the existing one per cent.

He said additional goods tax levied on iron and steel and plastic goods on raw material and finished goods will be reduced appropriately.

To boost tourism, Singh said package tours would be developed and focus would be kept on the adventure, religious, heritage, winter sports, tracking and outdoor activities.

“We will lay stress on providing basic infrastructure and facilities like clean toilets at bus stands, restaurants and petrol pumps.”

Himachal Pradesh attracted 184.51 lakh tourists last year with a growth rate of about 5.24 per cent over the preceding year. Tourism industry contributes 6.8 per cent to the State Gross Domestic Product and by 2020 the government aims to increase it to 10 per cent.

According to budget estimates, the total revenue receipts are estimated at Rs 27,714 crore and the total revenue expenditure is estimated to be Rs 28,755 crore with a revenue deficit of Rs 1,041 crore.

The expected receipts in capital account of the government are Rs 6,164 crore apart from Rs 1,200 crore in public account, including provident fund.

“Capital expenditure, including loan repayments, is estimated to be Rs 7,028 crore. The fiscal deficit for 2017-18 is likely to be Rs 4,946 crore,” Singh added.

The BJP described the budget as directionless.

Leader of Opposition Prem Kumar Dhumal said: “It’s just an effort to woo the people ahead of the assembly elections. It’s much ado about nothing.”

–IANS

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