No new taxes in revised Kerala budget; Opp doesn’t buy

Kerala Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal on Friday presented a revised budget for the fiscal 2021-22, which had no new taxes and added it was just an extension of the one which his predecessor Thomas Issac presented earlier this year.

But, the Congress-led opposition did not buy it and said the taxes were camouflaged ones.

The major highlight was a Rs 20,000-crore-Covid package for the state that has seen nearly 26 lakh cases and over 9,200 deaths so far.

He said vaccines to all above 18 years would be given free and for that Rs 1,000 crore have been set aside in the package.

In his first budget speech, the 57-year-old Balagopal also said: “It would include Rs 2,800 crore for emergency Covid situation; Rs 8,900 crore for those who have had serious issues with their livelihoods; Rs 8,300 crore will be used for providing interest subsidies.”

“This budget of mine is a revised one and there will be no new taxes at all. We are expecting a substantial sum from the award from the 15th Finance Commission,” said Balagopal while speaking to the media after his presentation.

“The state’s finances will be looked into as this is a routine process because we have to do a regular review and hence at the moment there is no need to come out with a white paper on the state’s finances,” added Balagopal.

This is the second Covid package that has been announced by the Pinarayi Vijayan government, the first came in March last year which was also to the tune of Rs 20,000 crores.

“Covid pandemic has taken a heavy toll of the economy and we have decided to consider health of prime importance,” said Balagopal in his speech in the assembly.

Taking a dig of the Centre’s vaccine policy, he said the export of vaccines was not done in a professional way.

Rs 635 crore has been set aside to strengthen the health centres across the state besides new blocks will be build in Medical Colleges.

Rs 50 lakh has been set aside to start the preliminary studies for setting up a centre here similar to the US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Balagopal said.

The first case of Covid in the country was identified in Thrissur in the state in January 2020 and presently there are around 1.92 lakhs active cases and the daily test positivity rate for the past three days has been hovering around 15 per cent.

Minutes after the budget presentation, Leader of Opposition V.D.Satheesan said: “In the budget speech he says that people will get cash benefit directly, which he has now denied at his press meet. Fail to understand why he is misleading people.”

“Moreover, it’s surprising to note that the first half of his budget speech is nothing but politics.

“The Governor’s address earlier looked more like a budget speech and the Finance Minister’s speech looks like a Governor’s address,” added Satheesan.

State BJP president K.Surendran said all this package is “humbug and there is nothing which shows from where the sources of revenue are going to be generated”.

“All this package is coming from the revenue deficit grant of the Centre which is around Rs 19,500 crore.

“In Karnataka what one saw was direct cash transfer to the accounts of labourers and auto rickshaw drivers, while in Kerala nothing of that sort is there.

“The only thing that happens in Kerala is dressing up of central schemes. The budget is disappointing,” said Surendran.

A post graduate in Commerce and a Masters in Law, Balagopal, is a first time legislator.