Futile exercise

Futile exercise

The budget is bereft of any innovative ideas.

Even as there was an indication from Delhi that a two-phase election to the Karnataka Assembly might be held in May, chief minister Jagadish Shettar used his chance to present his maiden budget in the Karnataka legislature on Friday, predictably a populist and election-oriented one. Former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, who has walked out of the BJP and formed his own party, got some of his supporting MLAs to resign in a determined attempt to prevent Shettar from presenting the budget, but Shettar finally had his way as the opposition Congress and the JD(S) were in no mood to destabilise the government with the elections less than four months away.

Shettar, the third BJP chief minister in five years, running a truncated and dissidence-torn ministry, used the opportunity to present a tax-free budget for the year 2013-14, trying to woo large sections of people -- the farmers, the underprivileged, the government employees, the students and the urbanites with goodies running into several thousand crores. He has promised rice at Rs 2 per kg to 80 lakh BPL families, more free supply of power to farmers, Akash tablets to SC/ST students, internet connections to all government high schools and pre-university colleges and over Rs 6,000 crore for development of infrastructure in Bangalore city. Continuing with the pernicious practice set by Yeddyurappa, Shettar has allocated over Rs 200 crore to mutts and religious institutions, a majority of them caste-based organisations. In fact, there is an omnibus allocation of Rs 100 crore to unnamed religious bodies, which is likely to be misused in an election year. If the people of the state, reeling under soaring inflation, expected some relief in terms of reduced taxes, there was none. Late in the evening, outside the budget, the government allowed an increase in milk prices by Rs 4 per litre, another blow to the aam aadmi.

Karnataka has one of the highest levels of taxes in the country and a true way of reaching out to the people would have been to lessen their burden, like reducing the sales tax on petrol and the VAT on a number of commodities. Food, housing and education have all become prohibitively expensive but there is not a single innovative idea to bring some relief to the people. If the budget was supposed to be an instrument to garner votes for the BJP, the party has probably lost much more than it has gained.

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