The Bengal budget has brought good news to government employees, with the state government announcing a 3 per cent hike in Dearness Allowance, which had become a hot political issue. The government employees have been protesting, demanding their dearness allowance be put on par with central government employees.
Finance Minister Chandrima Bhattacharya presented the Rs 3.39-lakh crore budget for 2023-24, focusing on farmers and the tea industry, which has been facing problems. The budget also bore the imprint of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with a focus on farmers, youth and women’s welfare, and numerous social welfare schemes of the state government. “This is an employment-oriented budget,” the Chief Minister said.
In her budget speech, the finance minister positioned the state as a logistics hub. Rs 3000 crore has been allocated for rural roads under a special project named “Rastashree”. This would involve construction of new roads and revamping of existing roads over 11,500 km in rural areas.
In a bid to encourage young people to start small businesses, a new scheme called “Bhavishyat Credit Card” was introduced with an allocation of Rs 350 crore. Under it, two lakh people between the 18-45 year age group will be provided bank loans of upto Rs 5 lakh to set up micro-enterprises and create employment opportunities.
One of the key schemes to empower rural poor women is Lakshmir Bhandar, which will provide “social protection” to 1.88 crore women. “In order to ensure continuity of financial support beyond 60 years of age, they will receive Rs 1000 per month by way of automatic transition to Old Age Pension Scheme,” the minister said.
To provide relief beyond tax and mutation fee waiver for agricultural land to farmers, the minister announced a waiver on irrigation water. “I am happy to propose a full waiver of water rate on irrigation water,” she said in her speech.
The budget has also increased the annual allocation for each MLA for local area development works from Rs 60 lakh to Rs 70 lakh.
The budget introduced relief for lakhs of tea garden workers and the ailing tea industry. “In consideration of the long-standing demand of the tea garden workers for legitimate land documents, my government will bring out a policy for issuance of homestead patta to the eligible tea garden workers,” the finance minister said. Agricultural Income Tax on Tea Gardens has been waived for the next two financial years. Rural Employment Cess and Education Cess have also been exempted.
Politically, these announcements are likely to bring gains for the ruling Trinamool Congress in north Bengal, where the BJP has been making inroads.
The BJP MLAs, who came wearing masks with Rs 500 notes pasted on them, staged a walkout during the budget speech.
“The budget does not address burning issues and the aspirations of the people of West Bengal… there is an effort to make it a voter-oriented even though it seems like it has been written by the Chief Minister on her treadmill in thirty minutes,” said Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari.
“It is not professional and the state’s most important issues like infrastructure like ports, airports and roads have not been announced in the budget,” he said.
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