Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is in a tight spot over his promise to provide free laptops to PUC students.
The announcement was made in a hurry in the Governor’s address to the state legislature.
Now, both the Education and Finance Departments have raised several questions as the scheme would impose an additional financial burden of hundreds of crores.
State finances are already under stress because the government needs to raise over Rs 10,000 crore for its various populist schemes such as the Anna Bhagya, Ksheera Bhagya, etc.
Because of its precarious financial condition, the government is now considering providing laptops to just PUC science students.
According to Secretariat sources, separate cost evaluations have been done to cover all PUC students and also restricting it to only science students.
Sources said there is also confusion over whether laptops or low-cost tablets should be distributed. They said separate estimates have been submitted considering all these options, and it is up to the Chief Minister to decide whether he wants to provide them to all students or just science students and whether it should be laptops or tablets.
The sources said the Chief Minister has been cautioned against implementing it for any one stream as it could lead to unnecessary controversy that could land him in trouble politically when the Lok Sabha election is round the corner. When contacted, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Kimmane Ratnakar said the Education Department has sent its proposal to the Chief Minister.
“I cannot speak about budget proposals. We have just done our job. Just wait till Friday to see what the Chief Minister has to offer,” he said.
With over 6.10 lakh PUC students in the state, it would cost over Rs 600 crore to supply laptops at a conservative price of about Rs 10,000 apiece and about Rs 250 crore to provide ‘Aakash’ low-cost tabs promoted by the Government of India.
The proposal for serving eggs as part of the mid-day meal for school children is also before the Chief Minister, but he may defer it to the next financial year, the sources said.
‘Economy Needs a New Direction’
Industries and trade bodies are anticipating that some relief and progressive measures will be announced in the budget today.
While some hope for clarity and simplification of the existing schemes and taxes, others said that the government should give ‘a new direction to the economy’.
T V Mohandas Pai, Chairman of Manipal Global Education, said that the government has to focus on large-scale job creation, failing which there will a high rise in unemployment.
Sandeep Maini, Vice-Chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries (Karnataka Chapter), said that the manufacturing sector should be given a ‘fillip’ in the budget.
He said that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have suffered a lot in recent times.
He said that the government should look at giving a boost to the auto sector with concessions and encouraging alternatives or electric vehicles to bring down the levels of congestion and pollution in Bangalore.
Bangalore is home to many two wheeler Electric Vehicle makers and the country’s only four-wheel EV maker (Mahindra Reva).
K S Viswanathan, Vice-President, Industry Initiatives, National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), said there should be more clarity on taxes on software products as there is an ambiguity on what taxes apply to big and small companies in software and services sector.
Maini said there are many procedures in KVAT which can be simplified and there can be a rationalisation of taxes.
“We hope that the software concession taxes, given to software companies, should be extended to business process management firms as well,” he said.
On IT start-up funds, Maini said that additional funds will give much the needed impetus to individuals to start such ventures.