Mani reveals this thought process and experts concur and differ at The Hindu’s live panel discussion

Finance Minister K.M. Mani was in his element during a live analysis of the State Budget organised by The Hindu and Asianet News in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday, passionately defending his proposals and exuding confidence that his twin aims of double-digit growth and monitoring implementation of flagship projects could be achieved.

The feel-good factor of the Budget came in for praise in the first half of the discussions, and then came sharp criticism for the lack of “exclusive focus” on women’s issues, minimal provisions for the tourism sector, “absence” of new business models, a “conservative approach” and the rationale behind bringing down stamp duty.

Mr. Mani said announcement of 38 new schemes in a single Budget was a first in the State, and the proposal to have the Plan implementation responsibility vested with an official would ensure that these schemes did not remain on paper.

Reacting to the former Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac’s remark that implementation, particularly in a coalition government and with projects spread across various departments, would not be easy, Mr. Mani said he was confident.

“I’m definite. And I have no doubt that this Budget will take us forward to our objective of double-digit growth of the GDP,” he said. The “development-oriented” budget has given him immense “job satisfaction.”

When the former Health Minister P.K. Sreemathy questioned the rationale behind sparing beer and wine from additional tax while increasing the tax on other Indian-made foreign liquor since “only the rich usually consumed beer and wine,” Mr. Mani quipped, “We men will understand that more than you, teacher.”

Asked why the tax imposed on tobacco products was higher than that imposed on liquor, he said, “Smoking was more injurious to health.”

The Planning Board member C.P. John said the Budget showed “big confidence” during times of a global recessionary trend with efforts clearly aimed at channelling economic growth, poised to touch double digits.

V.T. Balram, MLA, said it was a balanced Budget and the Rs. 400 crore set aside for check dams was a huge step with the future in mind. Along with that, the solar lamp projects had given the Budget a green tinge, he said.

Dr. Isaac, who argued that bringing down the stamp duty was regressive when land prices were going up, said the Budget reflected a conservative approach with the one per cent increase in the value-added tax rate unjustifiable in times of a continuing price rise.

However, Mr. Mani sought to say that he had a different approach and “science” from that of Dr. Isaac.

The former Minister Mons Joseph; Mahila Congress State president Bindu Krishna; the industrialists V.K. Mathews, E.M. Najeeb, Sanjay Vijayakumar and S.N. Raghuchandran Nair; Joseph C. Mathew, information technology expert; Rafi Mather, financial expert; Magleen Peter, social activist; and C.P. Sasidharan of Federal Bank participated in the discussions.