BENGALURU: Coming under pressure from farmers associations, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy on Thursday announced an upgraded incentive scheme for all running crop loans availed from cooperative banks. Instead of an incentive of `25,000 for farmers who have repaid their loans, the new scheme will provide incentive up to `1lakh for all running crop loans in all cooperative banks.
The move, Kumaraswamy claimed, will benefit 22.23 lakh farmers but the burden on the exchequer is estimated to be `10,700 crore — this, in addition to the already announced loan waiver of `34,000 crore. Amid a walkout by BJP, which accused the government of cheating farmers with no concrete plan for the waiver, Kumaraswamy’s budget was passed in the legislative assembly on Thursday.
While announcing more sops for the farming community, the CM refused to cut fuel prices or make a clear statement on free bus passes to students of all communities. Kumaraswamy even chose to remain ambiguous on Anna Bhagya, Siddaramaiah’s pet welfare scheme. While the CM, on the floor of the Council, said there was intent to provide 7 kg free rice, the burden on the exchequer was huge, factoring in the rice procurement costs.
“I have been criticised for changes in the Anna Bhagya scheme and Siddaramaiah has also made an appeal. We will continue the scheme as is,” Kumaraswamy had said earlier in the day on the floor of the assembly without giving much clarity on what “as is” referred to. Kumaraswamy’s stance on Anna Bhagya left many inside the House confused too. “He didn’t make his stand clear on whether the poor will get 7 kg or 5 kg rice henceforth under the scheme,” said BJP leader Jagadish Shettar.
Despite a letter from Congress legislative party leader and coordination committee chairman Siddaramaiah appealing for a rollback on fuel taxes and changes to Anna Bhagya scheme, Kumaraswamy seemed unmoved.“We need to look for sources of income to run the government. After GST implementation, there are very few avenues where the state government can raise revenues,” he said. The decision to keep tax on fuel hiked comes despite JD(S)’ coalition partner Congress, attacking the BJP at the Centre on fuel price rise. “Not hiking fuel prices would have been ideal for us, but what choice do we have when such a massive waiver demands resources. Fuel prices in Karnataka, however, are much lower in comparison to other states and that is a respite,” said a Congress MLA. Another Congress leader added that BJP at the Centre had been revising fuel prices and Karnataka’s hike was nothing in comparison.
Making it clear that the farm loan waiver was the top priority for his government, Kumaraswamy has chosen to stay focused on all revenue-generating avenues. He reiterated in the Council that the hike in power tariff will result in an additional burden of just `10 per month for domestic consumers. Despite pressure from the opposition, the CM remained non-committal on the issue of free bus passes for students from all community. Currently, only students from the SC and ST communities are eligible for free bus passes. After 16.20 hours of debate on the budget, Kumaraswamy responded in both Houses on Thursday. While he refused to cut down on revenue generating avenues, he announced additional funds for the Minorities Welfare Department, taking the total allocation for the ministry to `3,234 crore.
Throughout the debate, Kumaraswamy was compelled to counter allegations of his budget being anti-North Karnataka. “The highest number of beneficiaries of the loan waiver will be from Belagavi division. This is not a father-son budget as being criticised by the opposition,” Kumaraswamy said. He assured that schemes for senior citizen pension, waiver for weavers, welfare plans for fishermen communities, waiver of loans for women self-help groups will be considered in the future.