3rd Wave & Vaccines in Focus, Kerala Presents Budget with Rs 20k Cr Covid Package; Says No to New Taxes

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Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s second-term government presented its first budget on Friday with Rs 20,000 crore Covid-19 package. Finance Minister K N Balagopal will be presenting his maiden budget. As the state grapples with coronavirus cases and a slowed economy, here is what one can expect from the budget:

Focus of Healthcare Amid Covid Second Wave

As India goes through a devastating Covid-19 wave that has initiated lockdowns in various states – including Kerala – the focus is expected to be on allocation to tackle the pandemic. The previous government’s last budget intended to resurrect the state’s economy, which had suffered due to Covid.

To compensate, the amended budget will devote a higher portion to the health sector. The third wave of Covid is expected to arrive in October, necessitating a larger budget for Covid mitigation.

It would also be vital to continue offering assistance to persons who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The budget is likely to include measures to help the economy recover. According to reports, The Finance Minister had previously implied that providing people with money is necessary to keep sales rolling.

Balagopal had told Asianet News that the budget will place more emphasis on health care. Currently, the state is facing a financial crisis. The minister had added that the implementation of the government’s manifesto would be a priority. He has also not ruled out the possibility of a tax hike, according to Malayalam Indian Express.

Changes to Last Budget?

Local media reports state that no fundamental changes will be made to the budget prepared by Thomas Isaac, apart from additional projects, such as schemes to implement extreme poverty eradication policy that will be formed.

Vaccines

The announcement of the Covid vaccine for free was repeated in the government’s policy statement. An additional amount of Rs. 1,000 crore is being spent for this, the report by Malayalam Indian Express mentions. The government is targeting 6.6 per cent economic growth this year.

CM Vijayan has repeatedly stressed on the importance of Covid vaccines to help limit the pandemic. The Chief Minister had on Monday wrote to his counterparts in all non-BJP ruled states and requested them to make a "united effort” to demand the Centre to procure Covid-19 vaccines and distribute them at free of cost.

The letter was written to the Chief Ministers of 11 states such as Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.

Challenges

The biggest challenge facing Finance Minister KN Balagopal, who is presenting the budget, is the lack of revenue following the lockdown. The state’s main sources of income, such as the lottery and liquor, have been suspended. There is no GST revenue as the industrial establishments are also closed.

From June 7 to 9, there will be a general discussion on the new budget. The administration will also propose a new three-month vote on accounts, assuming that the updated budget will only be passed after a thorough debate in the next session.

Meanwhile, the assembly and its premises have been subjected to stringent Covid-19 procedures. MLAs have been urged to wear double mask/N95 masks throughout the session, and seats have been rearranged to ensure correct social separation.

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