CHANDIGARH: Reducing retirement age of government employees from 60 years to 58, free education for all students up to class 12th and debt waiver for landless farmers were some of the major announcements made by Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal in his budget.
Badal on Friday presented a Rs 1,54,805 crore budget for financial year 2020-21 in the state Assembly here.
Deciding against levying any fresh taxes, Badal also announced to waive Change of Land Use (CLU) charges for two years for the new industries coming up outside the municipal limits and slash 'mandi' fee on vegetables from four per cent to one per cent.
In his fourth budget of the current dispensation, the minister also announced to earmark Rs 100 crore for giving 10 lakh free smartphones to the youth, which was one of the main poll promises of the Congress-led regime.
However, the delivery of smartphones has been halted due to the coronavirus outbreak in China, Badal said in his budget speech. "We expect the delivery of smartphones to start from April 2020 onwards," he said.
Asserting that the state's finances were "back on track", Badal said the state has achieved a situation where there is no funding gap in 2020-21 because of the government's sustained efforts of bringing in fiscal prudence.
Announcing his government's major decision, Badal said the retirement age of government employees has been reduced from 60 years to 58 years.
"With this, we will be able to provide employment to three to four times the number of people who retire. We will also be able to get more talented pool of young people to serve Punjab," Badal said while addressing media later.
He said the number of employees who are going to be affected with this move was yet to be worked out and that the decision will be implemented in two phases. "Those who have turned 59 will retire on March 31 this year and those who are 58 will retire from September 30," said Badal.
Badal said at present, 3.50 lakh government employees are working in the state departments and the attrition rate is 5 to 6 per cent. When asked about its financial implications, Badal said he was expecting that the financial outgo on account of reducing retirement age would be Rs 3,500 crore.
Allocating Rs 12,488 crore for promotion of schools and higher education, Badal announced to grant free education in government schools to all students up to class 12th. Currently, free education is provided to all students up to 8th standard and for girls up to class 12th.
He said that free transportation facility for primary schools students will also be provided and for this Rs 10 crore has been allocated. Badal also announced to earmark Rs 4,000 crore in the budget for the 6th Pay Commission which is expected to submit recommendations in the near future.
He further announced payment of 6 per cent Dearness Allowance arrears to employees next month which would involve financial outgo of Rs 1,000 crore. The government employees have been seeking release of their pending DA.
The finance minister also announced to allocate Rs 2,000 crore including Rs 520 crore especially for waiving loans of landless farm workers under its flagship programme of crop loan waiver scheme. The government has already waived crop loans of all small and marginal farmers (up to 5 acres) who have loans of up to Rs 2 lakh.
Later, Badal also said the compensation to families of farmers who committed suicide would be ensured within 60 days. The allocation for free power subsidy for farmers has been kept at Rs 8,275 crore for 2020-21, he said.
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In another important announcement, the minister also said under the new assessment policy of the excise and taxation department, the number of pending and old VAT assessment cases would come down from 1.24 lakh to about 30,000.
In the budget, Badal proposed revenue receipts of Rs 88,004 crore and revenue expenditure of Rs 95,716 crore for 2020-21. He further said the revenue deficit for 2020-21 will be Rs 7,712 crore (1.20 per cent of GSDP) and the fiscal deficit will be Rs 18,828 crore (2.92 per cent of GSDP).
He also projected outstanding debt of Rs 2,48,236 crore for 2020-21 as against 2019-20 revised estimates of Rs 2,28,906 crore. Badal also proposed capital expenditure of Rs 10,280 crore. The finance minister also said the state would get higher share from the central taxes as has been proposed by the 15th Finance Commission.
Badal said the state government proposes to set up two agriculture colleges at Gurdaspur and Balachaur.