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Sops in J&K budget
With eye on Panchayat and Local Bodies elections, the budgetary proposals appear to be populist in nature
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By all accounts, the budgetary proposals presently in the both Houses of J&K legislature for the next financial year appear to be populist with claims of the Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu that the state economy has really taken off. This is mainly for the reason that the PDP-BJP coalition is eyeing the forthcoming elections to Panchayat and Urban Local Bodies scheduled to take off by the middle of next month. The Rs 80,313-crore budget with a mere deficit of Rs 3000 crore with no fresh taxes on many items including those covered under luxury category is a repeat of the feats in the borrowing state instead of depending on its own resources for all purposes including the welfare of the people. In fact, the finance minister has gone to the extent of abolishing toll tax on many items which fall in the category of essential services or the products used by the common masses. Apart from this, toll exemptions have been granted to products being exported from the state in order to provide relief to agriculture sector which has been reeling under severe economic pressure post-demonetisation of high value currency notes of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 in November 2016. The horticulture, tourism and power generation are the mainstay of the J&K's economy and granting some transport subsidy and toll tax exemption will definitely go a long way in coming to the rescue of farming fraternity in the state. Similarly, providing some financial impetus to some of the sectors including handicrafts and handlooms for marketing support will bring some solace to the artisans, who have not been able to get a price for their produce through a hard labour. This was long awaited in view of the disturbed conditions not only in the state but also the targeted consumers in the country and abroad. The exports have been on the lower side despite J&K economy and its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) registering an impressive 14.2 percent growth rate over the previous at currents prices. The financial outlook of a natural resources rich state can be very well imagined if political intervention can restore peace to some extent. Certainly, J&K's economy will be booming despite low investments from the central pool and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which have remained elusive due to number of factors beyond the control of the state government and the people.

The sops to the government employees in the state with announcement of implementing 7th Pay Commission from April 1, 2018 with retrospective effect from January 1, 2016 besides release of Dearness Allowance due from July 1, 2017, is aimed at wooing the 6 lakh employees and pensioners in the coming days. Another announcement of covering all the employees and pensioners under the medi-claim insurance scheme will strengthen the social security net for the commoners in J&K. For the first time, some journalists have also been covered under this scheme. But the budget does not make a mention of the people who are facing the scourge of unemployment due to economic slowdown n the country and shifting of base of some of the Information Technology companies from the state including the IT enabled call centres which have been major employers. The budget also does not make any mention of the people facing disturbed conditions in the vicinity of the borders with Pakistan for the past over three years. The agriculture losses suffered by the farmers in this belt also do not figure anywhere in the budgetary proposals. The crop failures during the past three years have put enormous pressure on the farmers particularly post-2014 unprecedented floods in the state and needed special attention. Similarly, the business establishments having been affected adversely by floods in 2014 have got some relief in the form of interest remission and refinance besides amnesties for the tax payers, who have been waiting for such a relief for the past three years. In a first, the finance minister, who presented the budget for fourth year in a row has announced treating all trans-genders as a separate category and will get benefits under the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category unless they demand otherwise. Apart from this, there has been a move to fix minimum wages for the casual and contractual workers employed by the state government on bass of their skills, but there are other sector wherein persons having rendered a decade of service or more have been waiting for their regularisation. A rational approach needs to be adopted by the state government when the cases for their regularisation are taken up separately by a committee constituted for this purpose. It should not appear to be a mere wages revision step but ensure overall social security of the people having served the government in various capacities. The industrial sector needs more impetus for survival of small and medium scale industrial units which employ more people compared to heavy industries in the state. It is yet to be seen how the proposals implemented from next financial year help in reaching the targeted population and ensure overall well-being of the common masses.

News Updated at : Saturday, January 13, 2018
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