Free Press Journal

No new taxes in populist budget in Himachal


Shimla: Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on Tuesday presented a populist but deficit budget of Rs.32,593 crore for the 2016-17 fiscal with no new taxes.

The focus is on agriculture and horticulture sectors, besides industrial investments, he said. The chief minister also holds the finance portfolio in the state.

Terming the budget development and growth-oriented, his 18th during a record six tenures as state chief minister, Virbhadra Singh said a huge debt burden of Rs.35,151 crore till March 31 last year was a matter of concern.

In the next fiscal, he said, the interest outgo is likely to be Rs.3,400 crore.

The chief minister, in his over three-hour-long speech, explained how the Congress government overcame all odds with the scrapping of the Planning Commission.

“The Planning Commission used to approve and substantially finance the State Plan for over 60 years. During 2014-15, we received about Rs.3,000 crore through the erstwhile Planning Commission,” he said.

“Its demise has closed a very important source of financing for the State Plan. Even then, my government proposes an annual plan of Rs.5,200 crore for 2016-17 fiscal, an increase of Rs.400 crore over the annual plan of 2015-16.”

The octogenarian chief minister, who read the budget speech without any break, said the externally aided projects have always been useful for a special category state like Himachal Pradesh to supplement the state resources.

At present, seven such projects in public works, forestry, power, tourism and agriculture, entailing expenditure of Rs.11,978 crore, are being implemented in the hill state.

To control the menace of wild animals, destroying agricultural fields, the chief minister announced the ‘Mukhya Mantri Khet Sanrakshan Yojana’ that provides for 60 percent assistance to farmers to fence their farms.

The fencing will be energised by solar energy or electricity. For this, he proposed a budget outlay of Rs.25 crore.

Expressing concern over change in climatic conditions that are hitting the state’s apple crop, Virbhadra Singh, said the apple belt is shifting to higher reaches due to rise in temperature.

“I, therefore, propose initiating a research programme to develop varieties of apples requiring low chilling hours for lower altitude areas.”

To conserve electricity, the chief minister proposed to reduce the value-added tax (VAT) on bulbs from 13.75 percent to 5 percent. Solar cookers and solar lanterns are exempted from VAT.

For inviting industrial investments, he proposed to set up the Himachal Bureau of Investment that will ensure speedy and time-bound clearances.

He also announced the Chief Minister Startup/New Industries Scheme. It includes four percent interest subvention up to a loan of Rs.10 lakh and stamp duty at the rate of three percent.

He also announced to reduce entry tax on industrial inputs and raw material from two percent to one percent on the existing industry, and from one to half percent for new industry.

To protect the hills from vehicular carbon emissions, the chief minister announced exemption from token tax, registration charges and VAT on all electrical vehicles for five years.

Virbhadra Singh announced that the entertainment duty on ropeways will be reduced from 25 to 10 percent and cinema halls from 20 to 10 percent.

The new cinema halls will be exempted from the entertainment duty for five years.

To protect the interest of the journalists, the chief minister proposed a budgetary provision of Rs.1 crore to meet out exigencies like illness and accident.

Virbhadra Singh also announced to launch a special drive to effectively implement the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act.

He announced a cash award of Rs.10,000 for providing information on female foeticide. Fifteen panchayats in the state will be given an additional development grant of Rs.10 lakh each for the best female-male birth ratio.

For the employees, the chief minister announced an interim relief of five percent on basic pay for regular government employees and pensioners from August 1 this year. The additional benefit will be to the tune of Rs.300 crore per annum.