Kerala govt budgets big for its farmers

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Jan 25 2014, 10:13am hrs
The Congress-led UDF government's budget (2014-2015) presented on Friday slapped taxes on nearly every sector, from construction industry to transport, and yet slithers alarmingly down from its zero revenue deficit (RD) commitment.

Kerala FM K M Mani had to resort to an additional resource mobilisation of Rs 1,556.35 crore for revving up the farm engines and to perk up welfare pensions ahead of the general elections.

Mani, whose party stands for the agricultural belt of the state, has not wavered a tad in his professed target to lure the educated youth to agriculture, announcing schemes to promote vertical farming, interest-free loans for hi-tech agriculture,polyhousing farms and specialised training under expert institutes such as the MS Swaminathan Foundation.

Kerala has also become the first state in the country to come out with a nearly free income-guarantee insurance package for the farmer with small land holding through this year's budget.

Although the FM promises a 24% revenue growth, the expected Rs 7,000-crore revenue deficit is likely to end up higher, indicative of a financial crisis round the corner. Revenue collection has been admittedly slack. Kerala has posted a RD that is 4.33% of Kerala's GDP. Compared to the negative growth in primary sector in the previous year, the state has managed to muster 4% agriculture growth in 2011-12. "My thrust is to transform Kerala to a hi-tech agricultural state," Mani said.

As many as 25 crops will get insurance cover. The budget even offers free laptops for girl students from farmer families with less than two hectare holding. The budget earmarks Rs 1,770 crore for the energy sector, Rs 960 crore for farm sector, Rs 629 crore for health, Rs 100 crore for green finance to back environment-friendly industries and Rs 134-crore for Technopark. But the fourth budget of the UDF government is starkly mum on any big-billed infrastructure investment project.

Transport sector has also been hit as the budget steeply hiked the purchase tax on imported vehicles, lumpsum tax on motor cars of various capacities and sizes, new generation caravans and inter-state coaches. Vehicles with pushback/sleeper facilites, operating with interstate licence, will have to pay a quarterly levy at the rate of Rs 1,000 a seat.

"The across-the-board imposts on transport sector would add to the cargo costs and aggravate the food inflation," T Nazirrudin, president, KVVES, a traders' guild, told FE.