Kerala

Praise for Kerala Budget tempered by ‘poor’ deal for farmers

Demystifying the budget: Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac and journalist John Brittas at a discussion on the State Budget 2019-20, organised by The Hindu and Kairali-People TV in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday.

Demystifying the budget: Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac and journalist John Brittas at a discussion on the State Budget 2019-20, organised by The Hindu and Kairali-People TV in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday.   | Photo Credit: S_GOPAKUMAR

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At a show organised by The Hindu and Kairali-People TV channel, experts analyse budget’s merits and pitfalls

Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac’s 2019-20 State Budget drew both applause and thinly disguised criticism from experts, who on Thursday closely analysed what it had to offer post-flood Kerala.

At the post-budget ‘FM on Trial’ programme organised by The Hindu and Kairali-People TV channel, experts welcomed the 25 KIIFB-backed, Rebuild Kerala-linked projects drawn up by Dr. Isaac and the thrust on industry. Several of them, on the other hand, did not shy away from expressing the feeling that the budget could have done more — especially for farmers — in the post-flood scenario.

‘No loan waiver’

Former Planning Board member C.P. John categorically termed the first post-flood budget a dismaying one. The biggest disappointment, he said, was that it did not promise to write off farm loans. “Other States have done it. It was expected that there would be something more for the farmers. They are reeling under large-scale crop and livestock destruction and obligations such as education loan repayment,” Dr. John said.

Agriculture expert Subramanya Iyer also drew attention to the fact that Dr. Isaac had deftly skirted the question of a farm loan write-off. “It is true that the budget has earmarked ₹2,500 crore for agriculture, but a write-off too was on the wish list, it being the first budget after the floods. Also, while special packages have been offered for Wayanad and Kuttanad, Idukki appears to have been left out,” Prof. Iyer said.

While a loan write-off does not necessarily draw enthusiasm from the point of view of economics, it is an ideal welfare measure since a government does not operate on economics alone, added Sruthi S., Assistant Professor in Economics, VTM NSS College, Dhanuvachapuram.

Fillip to rubber sector

Finance expert Mary George described the State Budget as ‘far-sighted’ and less populist than a Narendra Modi budget would turn out to be. She welcomed the announcement of a CIAL-model company for giving a fillip to the ailing rubber sector. “It is a very attractive proposal since the sector had taken a big hit during the flood. Approximately ten lakh farmers depend on this sector,” she said.

Dr. Isaac’s plans for Malabar Coffee using the coffee bean cultivated in the carbon-neutral Wayanad hills was welcomed by the participants. This special scheme and the outlays for pepper, paddy and coir are attractive, Peelipose Thomas, chairman, Kerala State Financial Enterprises (KSFE), said. “The 25 projects under the ‘Rebuild’ initiative are of course the most attractive in the budget. Also, if the KSFE and the Kerala Bank join hands, it can thoroughly transform the banking and non-banking sectors in the State,” he said.

While the budget has struck a positive note for the construction sector, the government should avoid cess on affordable housing, S.N. Raghuchandran Nair, president, Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said. Peringamala Ramachandran of the Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi said he did not come across any proposal in the budget for boosting trade. “Trade has been going through a post-flood slump. Tax revenue will go up only if that is overcome,” he said.

‘Curb gold smuggling’

The vexing issue of unaccounted gold trade also came up at the discussion with M.P. Ahammed, chairman, Malabar Group of Companies, urging the Minister to put a stop to it. “Ending it alone will ensure an additional flow of ₹6,000 crore to the treasury. In the unaccounted business, only the smugglers make profit,” Mr. Ahammed said. B. Govindan, chairman, Bhima Jewellers, also echoed the sentiment.

The budget holds much promise for tourism, E.M. Najeeb, president, Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry, said. In the health sector, the decision to involve private hospitals in secondary and tertiary health care services and the proposal for an insurance scheme involving private hospitals is laudable, Mr. Najeeb said.

Congratulating the Finance Minister for the slew of women’s welfare schemes in the budget, Babitha Marina Justin, Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), said that cybersecurity of women also should have been addressed in the budget.

‘Good for education’

Gris Hikdas, educational specialist, called the budget “promising” for the education sector. “Our primary and secondary education have been doing well. But higher education has not been up to the mark,” he said.

For the transgender community, Dr. Isaac’s budget was mildly disappointing, transgender activist Seema Vineeth said. “Compared to last year, it is disappointing for the transgender community. Last year, the budget had earmarked ₹10 crore for transgender welfare. What the community requires most are shelters, but we are yet to get them,” she said.

John Brittas, MD, Kairali TV, moderated the one-and-a-half-hour session. The KSFE was the finance partner for the event. The event was presented by Malabar Gold and Diamonds and powered by Alchemy IAS.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 4:54:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/praise-for-state-budget-tempered-by-poor-deal-for-farmers/article26142615.ece

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