KOLKATA: Demonetisation loomed large over the West Bengal general budget presented by economist-turned-finance minister Amit Mitra at the state Assembly on Friday. The budget indicated a reduced revenue generation of Rs 1,800 crore with the debt burden on the state likely to touch 3.66 lakh crore.
However, keeping in mind the Panchayat elections in rural Bengal next year, a slew of social benefits have been eked out in the budget targeting Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, small-scale industries and even migrant workers who have returned to West Bengal from various parts of the country due to demonetisation.
The finance minister said the growth rate of West Bengal has reduced to 9.27% and claimed it would take two-three decades for the economy to recover from the effect of demonetisation. He also stated 13.27 lakh jobs have been generated in the state over the past six years.
"We had planned for a revenue generation of Rs 50,773 crore in the financial year 2016-17 but succeeded in generating Rs 48,926 crore. The major loss was incurred in sales tax generation. We had planned for Rs 32,000 crore sales tax generation but succeeded in generating Rs 30,000 crore. Less collection of sales tax is a direct result of demonetisation," he said.
The debt burden on the state has increased affecting the revenue generation. "Debt of Rs 12,400 crore was incurred in the previous financial year. This is a direct legacy of the debt circle we have been trapped in since the Left Front regime began huge unregulated central borrowings since 2006. The total debt may touch Rs 3.66 lakh crore," he added.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also put the blame for increased debt crisis on the Left Front. "In the past six years, we borrowed Rs 1.42 lakh crore. However, every year we need to repay Rs 40,000 crore to the Centre due to the borrowings of the Left since 2006," she said.
Lauding the budget as humanitarian, she said:"We don't have much money unlike states like Tamil Nadu. Despite this, we have tried to make the budget as humanitarian as possible. Despite severe money crunch, our government will continue all schemes benefitting the people."
Refuting the blame, Left legislative leader Sujan Chakraborty said, "When we lost power in 2011, the debt burden on the state was Rs 1,86,000 crore. However, Rs 79,000 crore was paid back. But, she had additionally borrowed Rs 1,45,000 crore over the past 6 years. How can she blame us for that?"
10 major highlights of the 2017 West Bengal general budget:
1. A hike of Rs 500 per month in honorarium to two lakh Anganwadi workers in West Bengal.
2. A hike of Rs 500 per month in honorarium to 50,000 ASHA workers.
3. Rs 50,000 one time monetary assistance to 50,000 migrant workers who returned home to West Bengal after demonetisation; Rs 250 crore earmarked.
4. Rs 100 crore special package for farmers; focus on creating cooperative institutions.
5. District hospitals in Purulia, Rampurhat, Diamond Harbour, Coochbehar and Raiganj to be upgraded to medical colleges; 500 MBBS seats to be added to these colleges; Rs 750 crore earmarked.
6. Businessmen with businesses under Rs 10 lakh need not pay VAT.
7. Kerosene kept out of VAT.
8. VAT registration made online in the state.
9. 20% rebate in tax if a new house is registered within one year of construction.
10. Only 2% stamp duty in the beginning; the rest can be paid over 4 years.