Siddaramaiah eyes voters with budget

Siddaramaiah eyes voters with budget

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has come out with a host of populist measures and doled out freebies keeping the next year’s Assembly elections in view, while being cautious enough not to burden the common man with any major levies.

Siddaramaiah, who presented the state budget proposals for 2017-18 in the Assembly on Wednesday, tried to explain the financial constraints his government faces because of a sluggish economy. But it appears this has not stopped him from announcing populist programmes aimed at wooing both rural masses and the urban poor. He, however, belied the hopes of farmers as well as opposition parties on their demand to waive farm loans.
He has also not announced any major infrastructure project, especially for Bengaluru.

In his last full-fledged budget before Karnataka goes to polls in 2018, the chief minister has made it a point to continue to please the Ahinda community (Kannada acronym for backward classes, Dalits and minorities), considered to be his major vote bank. 

The total subsidy burden on the government in this budget goes up by Rs 6,000 crore, which is about 33% more than the current financial year.

Siddaramaiah appears to have taken a cue from various states to unveil populist schemes: ‘Saviruchi canteens’ from the Amma canteens in Tamil Nadu, free water supply and waiver of power bills from Delhi and free LPG connections from the Centre which became a big hit in Uttar Pradesh. Besides, he has increased the quantum of rice under his pet Anna Bhagya  scheme to 7 kg from 5 kg per beneficiary and decided to give milk to government school students on five days a week instead of three days. Siddaramaiah brought cheer among moviegoers by announcing a cap of Rs 200 on entry ticket to all multiplexes. The chief minister has also proposed making it mandatory for all cinemas to screen Kannada and regional language movies during prime time.

The CM has tried to appease over six lakh state government employees by setting up the seventh pay commission. He has also tried to please employees in the private sector by proposing to increase their retirement age to 60 from 58.

Siddaramaiah also announced the formation of 49 new taluks. Though he has not imposed any major taxes keeping the 2018 election in view, he has proposed hiking the additional excise duty on ‘Indian Made Foreign Liquor’. This will make liquor dearer.

High-end two-wheelers will also cost more with the motor vehicle tax being hiked.
The additional resource mobilisation due to these two levies is estimated to fetch the state exchequer Rs 1,060 crore. The chief minister has set a moderate revenue target in the coming financial year in anticipation of the implementation of Goods and Services Tax.  
No farm loan waiver
Financial constraints, including a shortfall in state resources by Rs 1,624 crore, is said to have restrained Siddaramaiah from announcing a farm loan waiver.

In his effort to present a please-all budget, with a total outlay of  Rs 1,86,561 crore, Siddaramaiah has brought down revenue surplus position to an alarming Rs 136 crore. This has, in turn, taken a toll on capital expenditure, which is crucial for infrastructure development. “Namma canteens” will be launched in each of the 198 wards of BBMP where breakfast (Rs 5), lunch and dinner (Rs 10) will be provided.

The chief minister has allocated Rs 100 crore for this scheme. At the district level, “Saviruchi” mobile canteens will be set up through zilla ‘stree shakti okkutas’.  
Subsidy of Rs 1,600 for LPG connections to five lakh eligible poor families not selected under the Centre’s Ujjwala scheme, free water supply up to 10,000 litres per month for slum dwellers living in 20x30 sites and waiving their pending bills are some of the other sops on the anvil.

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