Himanta govt's first budget proposes one lakh jobs, no new tax

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(Eds: Adding details, collating stories) Guwahati, Jul 16 (PTI) The Himanta Biswa Sarma government of Assam on Friday presented a Rs 566 crore deficit budget for 2021-22 in the state assembly, proposing one lakh government jobs and no new taxes.

The maiden budget of the Sarma government was tabled by Ajanta Neog, the state's first-ever woman finance minister.

The government proposed to provide smartphones to class 9 and 10 students of government schools, create 50 new border out posts, set up an agriculture commission and start artificial insemination in cattle to increase milk production.

Chief Minister Sarma described the budget as 'people- centric', and said that it did not include any new tax proposal to ensure that no additional burden falls on the people, already bogged down by the COVID-19 situation.

He said that the budget has proposals aimed at the welfare of the poor and middle-class, while the outline for the next five years' developmental work has been laid down.

Opposition parties, however, slammed the budget claiming that it is 'anti-people', with no real proposals to address the burning issues, including price rise.

While reading out the budgetary proposals, Neog said that she is following the footsteps of her predecessor who had decided not to tax the public in his budgets.

Sarma was the finance minister in the previous Sarbananda Sonowal-led government.

During the last fiscal, the Tax Department's collection declined to Rs 14,645 crore from Rs 14,967 crore in the previous financial year due to 'economic slowdown' on account of COVID-19 pandemic, Neog said.

'I would like to mention that while we had to mobilise and marshal all the resources for tackling the Covid pandemic, the revenue generation took a hit at the same time as the economy came to a standstill,' she said.

She informed the House that the tax collection has increased to Rs 3,501 crore during the first quarter of the current fiscal compared to Rs 1,920 crore in the year-ago period 'despite second wave of Covid'.

Presenting the Budget estimates, Neog said that the aggregate income has been calculated to be Rs 2,89,770.68 crore for 2021-22, while the total expenditure for the fiscal is estimated at Rs 2,89,367.10 crore.

'Thus, estimated transactions during the year will result in an estimated surplus of Rs 403.58 crore. This, together with the opening deficit of Rs 969.78 crore will lead to a budget deficit of Rs 566.20 crore at the end of the year 2021-22,' she added.

On the job sector, the finance minister said that unemployment of educated youths is one of the major causes of concern and in order to minimise the negative impact of this problem, the government in its first cabinet meeting on May 11 had decided to start the process of recruitment of one lakh youths in the government sector.

On the coronavirus situation, Neog said, 'I declare firmly that the government will steadfastly strive to contain Covid and continue the momentum of development side by side.

The government has not allowed fund constraints for Covid management. The vaccination drive is being converted to a mass movement with people's participation,' she added.

On the BJP's poll promise of waiving micro-finance loans, Neog said, 'In Assam today, microfinance serves almost 26 lakh borrowers with a total portfolio of Rs 12,500 crore.

The bulk of this portfolio is in rural parts of the state.' The loans serve mostly women as clients, enabling them to uplift their status through micro-enterprises facilitated by this money, she added.

With the micro-finance lenders following the mandatory Fair Practices Code, an amount of more than Rs 4,000 crore will start accruing to the borrowers from the lenders directly and will benefit lakhs of such borrowers, Neog said.

'Once the lending institutions extend benefit to the borrowers under the Fair Practice Code, the requirement of funds would come down from Rs 12,000 crore to about Rs 7,500 crore. I am earmarking the sum accordingly,' she added.

Neog proposed to introduce the use of sex sorted semen for the benefit of dairy farmers to increase the number of high genetic female calves.

Through the use of sex-sorted semen, the gender of the calf can be pre-determined.

'It would control the birth of scrub bulls as 80 to 90 per cent of all births would be female calves. Female births shall help in meeting the ever-increasing demand for milk in the state. This year, it is proposed to cover 50,000 cattle and buffaloes,' she added.

The government proposed to form an Agriculture Commission under a scientist of international repute to focus on issues related to agriculture, animal husbandry and dairy sector in Assam.

In order to protect the inter-state border, the Assam government will build 50 new Border Out Posts (BOPs) and to promote peaceful relations with the neighbouring states, border festivals will be organised on the frontline areas, she added.

To step up paddy procurement at MSP and prevent distress sale, Assam Food and Civil Supply Corporation Ltd will be provided with a working capital of Rs 200 crore to procure 10 lakh quintal paddy, she said.

To minimise the learning loss and bridge the digital divide amid COVID-19 pandemic, the government will provide smartphones to the students of Class 9 and 10. This scheme will benefit almost eight lakh students. PTI TR SSG NN NN

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