Eye on polls in tax-free Budget

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Chandigarh: Punjab Finance Minister Upinderjit Kaur on March 14 presented a near perfect “pre-election” Budget for 2011-2012, with a please-all approach that provided for no new taxes. Even as the government tried its best to include several schemes for targeted groups like the poor and women, it left many others — which include industry and employees — disappointed.

Punjab’s first woman Finance Minister (incidentally also  the country’s first in any state) presented a Rs. 48,594.85 crore Budget. She is  confident to mop up revenues of Rs. 32,026.76 crore, while the committed expenditure is    Rs. 35,405.75 crore, leaving the state with a Rs. 3,378.99 crore revenue deficit. In an annual plan of Rs. 11,500 crore, the state will have a fiscal deficit of Rs. 8,801.33 crore.

The Budget is largely on expected lines in a pre-election year. It has also somewhat managed to offset the damage caused to the SAD-BJP government by former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, who questioned the financial prudence in giving out doles and subsidies while accumulating more debt. Kaur has retained all subsidies, yet managed to bring down the revenue deficit.

In this Budget, the education has received the biggest jump with an increased allocation of 52 percent with the government earmarking Rs. 1,441 crore for education and another Rs. 229 crore for higher education. The social security sector has received Rs. 924 crore, a 24 percent rise. A major sum is earmarked for old-age pensions for 19.7 lakh beneficiaries.

For infrastructure development, which will also be a major SAD-BJP election plank in the next election, the Finance Minister has committed Rs. 986 crore. PIDB has got Rs. 916 crore for creation of infrastructure, the power sector Rs. 3,300 crore while irrigation has got another Rs. 1,030 crore.

Though the health sector has been allotted an impressive Rs. 720 crore, the element of politics is apparent. Free healthcare has been extended to all backward classes and economically weaker families whose family income is below Rs. 30,000 per annum. This initiative is expected to benefit an additional 1.4 million families.

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