THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The state Budget 2018-19 presented by Finance Minister Thomas Isaac has a heavy accent on welfare coupled with fiscal prudence. In an exclusive interview to Express, he exuded confidence the state tax revenues would grow by 25 per cent once the glitches associated with the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax regime get sorted out. Excerpts:
Q: One of the criticisms against the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) is the Budget provision may fall short of delivering. What is the outlay for the health insurance programme announced in your Budget?
A: The modalities of the programme are being worked out, but I'm willing to set aside as much as Rs 1,000 crore. Our Kerala Model healthcare programme will be unique and I can assure money will not be a constraint.
Q: Will NHPS be really helpful for the state's comprehensive healthcare programme?
A: I feel NHPS is a 'most' inviable scheme. Jaitley may be thinking only a small portion of the estimated ten crore beneficiary households will actually utilise it (laughs).I'm not joking. Even the RSBY was not being utilised much in many states. But the situation will be different in Kerala. In the case of NHPS, I feel the state will be discriminated because only 15 to 20 lakh households would find a place in the scheme. But the state will ensure that all the existing beneficiaries of RSBY will be covered under the scheme, even if the state has to shell out more money. Others will be given an option to join by contribution.I feel the states must be allowed to design the programme suiting its conditions. After all, it is a joint scheme.
Q: Isn't the decision to exclude people owning a house of more than 1,200 sq ft from the ambit of social security pension an injustice to many like poor Gulf returnees?
A: We need to have some yardsticks to weed out the ineligible who are large in number. Of course, there could be innocent victims. The government will devise a provision to help them.
Q: What makes you proud of this Budget?
A: First, this is a 'gender responsive' budget. Second, it has concern for the differently-abled. And third, the healthcare programme which will be the next Kerala Model. Jaitley claims his NHPS will be the biggest in the world. But the Kerala programme will be distinct for the universal coverage. Hence, Kerala's programme will have more beneficiaries than the NHPS.
Q: Are you still keeping faith in GST to bail out the state from crisis?
A: I'm confident that the issues related to GST will be sorted out soon. Revenue growth rate under VAT was 8 pc and now it is 14 pc. Our aim is to achieve 25 pc growth which will be possible when the GST is free from initial glitches.
Q: State's infrastructure development is heavily dependent on KIIFB. But fund raising for the board continues to be delayed like the Pravasi Chitty aimed at raising Rs 10,000 crore in the initial year?
A: It is an inevitable delay since KSFE, the implementing agency, is not as professional as the KIIFB. It requires a lot of planning and safety auditing before launching an online system that would handle such a huge amount. I'm over conscious in this case given the country's experience with GST implementation.