A department for them under the direct supervision of the Chief Minister.

The tax-free State budget 2010-2011, presented by Finance Minister K. Anbazhagan in the recently inaugurated Assembly-Secretariat complex on Friday, contained a slew of policy measures for the differently abled.

Apart from announcing the creation of a department under the “direct supervision” of the Chief Minister, Mr. Anbazhagan conveyed the State government's appeal to the Union government to amend the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 in consonance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“This government would take all necessary steps for enabling the differently abled persons to lead their lives getting their due share in all livelihood rights such as education, health facilities, employment and with equal rights and opportunities in the society, in accordance with this Convention,” he said, pointing out that India was seventh among the countries that had adopted and signed the Convention.

When Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi entered the Assembly Hall, he was greeted by thumping of desks by members of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Congress. Even as the Finance Minister rose to present the budget, members of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam who came to the House in black attire staged a walkout, shouting slogans against the government.

Mr. Anbazhagan said the income ceiling prescribed for the differently abled availing assistance under various welfare schemes of the government would be removed. After having exempted such persons from payment of tuition fee, the government would exempt them from payment of special fees in the coming academic year.

A monthly assistance of Rs. 200 towards food to students staying in homes for the differently abled run by the Government and voluntary organisations would be enhanced to Rs. 450. The Minister said expenditure on the welfare of differently abled was fixed at Rs. 176 crore in the coming financial year as against Rs. 49 crore in 2005-2006.

Mullaperiyar issue

Referring to the Supreme Court order in February constituting the Empowered Committee on the Mullaperiyar dam dispute, Mr. Anbazhagan said the order required to be recalled.

On the issue of State autonomy, the Finance Minister wanted the Union government to drop the proposed move to centralise all the powers relating to higher education by establishing a unitary body – National Commission for Higher Education and Research. The Centre was also requested to formulate schemes after consulting State governments, he said.

Women’s education

Referring to the Union government's announcement of the scheme — “Saakshar Bharat” — in districts where literacy rate among women was less than 50 per cent, the Minister said the Rs. 68-crore scheme would be implemented in Villupuram, Perambalur, Salem and Erode. It would be executed by the Union and State governments.

The Anna University of Technology would be established in Madurai. Tiruvannamalai would have a medical college in the coming financial year.

He announced that the amount given under the Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Memorial Marriage assistance scheme for poor women would go up from the present Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 25,000.

One thousand and two hundred Adi Dravidar students pursuing engineering courses would be given training in software and spoken English through finishing schools. This year's allocation for Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan would be Rs. 3,828 crore, representing 19 per cent of the total plan outlay.

Devolution of funds to local bodies from the State's Own Tax Revenue would be increased from the present 9.5 per cent to 10 per cent in 2010-11. Village panchayats that did not have a community hall or a marriage hall would be provided with the facility, utilising grants of the 13th Finance Commission.

Tax concessions

Announcing tax concessions, the Minister said exemption from the Value Added Tax would be given for imported sugar for one year to contain the open market price. Aloe vera products [in the event of aggregate annual turnover not exceeding Rs. 1 crore], plates and cups made of areca palm leaf and powders made of pepper, cumin seed and aniseed were among those which had been exempted. The reduction in the tax rate from 12. 5 per cent to four per cent would cover commodities such as branded coffee powder (other than instant coffee), paint brush, branded sweets and savouries and branded ready mix food products.

A scheme for settlement of arrears under the Tamil Nadu General Sales Tax Act and Central Sales Tax Act would be introduced in the current session of the Assembly, he added.