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Free transport for women, higher pensions, 25% more farm allocation — Punjab’s FY22 budget

Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal announces a please-all budget in the presence of CM Amarinder Singh. No new taxes.

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Chandigarh: In the Amarinder Singh government’s last budget for this term, Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal Monday announced a please-all budget, largely driven by debt which is expected to touch a whopping Rs 2.73 lakh crore.

In the presence of the CM, Badal presented the budget for 2021-22 with an outlay of Rs 1.68 lakh crore. No new taxes were announced.

The exigencies of assembly elections — expected to be held early next year — marked the budget speech in which Badal doled out free transport facilities to women and government college students, doubled old age pension, raised the amount under the Aashirwad scheme, and announced the setting up of new medical colleges and research institutes for agriculture.

To push the pandemic-hit trading and business economy, Badal announced that all shops and commercial establishments in the state can remain open 24/7 round the year.

He also set aside Rs 9,000 crore for state government employees to implement the 6th Pay Commission. Moreover, nearly 50,000 fresh government vacancies will be filled this year.

The FM also reiterated the continuation of the loan waiver scheme for 1.13 lakh small, marginal and landless farmers in the next fiscal — worth Rs 1,186 crore. He also made it clear that the free power subsidy to the farmers worth Rs 7,180 crore will continue.

Hailing the ongoing farmers agitation as “legendary”, Badal dedicated the budget to the farmers of India.

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‘Driven to maintain dignity of Punjabis’

The Punjab government is expected to earn revenue of Rs 1.62 lakh crore in the next financial year, pegging the revenue deficit at 1.42 per cent and fiscal deficit at 3.9 per cent of the gross state domestic product (GSDP).

Badal is likely to depend heavily on debt to fulfill the promises made in the budget. The outstanding debt on the state is expected to rise to Rs 2.73 lakh crore from the revised estimates of 2020-21, which stands at 2.52 lakh crore. In 2014-15, the debt level was at Rs 1.12 lakh crore.

Badal said the GSDP had grown at an average rate of 10.43 per cent from 2017-18 to 2019-20. He added that the total revenue receipts of the state had increased by 98.52 per cent in 2020-21 on account of higher earnings from excise on liquor, electricity duty and stamp revenue.

“We have had a zero funding gap budget for the past two years,” he told reporters after presenting the budget in the state assembly.

“I was driven mainly by two aims — to maintain the dignity of the Punjabis so that they do not have to beg before anyone, and to be able to fulfill the state’s committed liabilities,” he said.

The allocation to the health sector was raised by almost 32 per cent at Rs 7,856 crore, and by 25 per cent for agriculture at Rs 6,827 crore.

In the outlay, almost Rs 13,600 crore was set aside for education, Rs 17,000 crore for welfare of weaker and vulnerable sections and Rs 16,500 crore for the infrastructure sector.

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Other figures from the budget

Punjab’s salaries and wages bill continued to constitute the highest share of its total expenditure at 24 per cent, followed by another 10 per cent of pension and other retirement benefits. Interest payments formed 17 per cent of the expense while power subsidy accounted for 9 per cent.

On International Women’s Day, FM Manpreet Singh Badal also announced that transportation for women in all state-run buses will be free of cost. Students of all state government colleges have also been allowed to travel free in public buses. The two doles are expected to cost the government Rs 170 crore.

The monetary aid to SC, ST, BC and EWS women during weddings under the Aashirwad scheme was raised from Rs 21,000 to Rs 51,000. This is likely to cost the government Rs 140 crore.

Under the old age pension scheme, the beneficiaries will get Rs 1,500 per month from 1 July as against Rs 750. With almost 30 lakh old age pensioners in the state, the move is expected to cost the government Rs 2,000 crore.

The monthly pension of freedom fighters in the state was also increased from Rs 7,500 to Rs 9,400.

Two new medical colleges were announced in Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala. The latter will also get a museum dedicated to the times and life of B.R. Ambedkar.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

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