Minister of State (independent charge) Chandrima Bhattacharya presented the state annual budget in the West Bengal State Assembly on February15, 2023. This is her second budget presentation. She presented a budget of `3.39 lakh crore for FY 2023-24. She focussed on farmers, women, the weak tea sector, and some infrastructure areas. Bhattacharya projected the state GDP growth as 8.4% and the growth rate of industry as 7.8% in the continuing FY 2022-23.
The state is already faced with an outstanding debt of `5.86 lakh crore, according to reports. In March 2022, the debt was `5.28 lakh crore with a fiscal deficit of `53,431.76 crore and a revenue deficit of `32,963.60 crore. At the same time, the government is optimistic about the collection from state excise. It is reportedly known that for the fiscal ending on March 31, the target of state collection of excise duty would be `16,500 crore. The excise collections had already crossed `13,500 crore as of January 31. Budget deficit in FY 2023-24 may be 3.83% which is not very alarming in this economic situation.
Some of the important announcements
One, it has been announced that 12, 500 km rural roads would be constructed at the cost of `3,000 crore. Secondly, the annual fund allocation fund for MLAs for local area development has been increased from `60 lakh crore to `70 lakh crore. Thirdly, `350 crore start-up funds will be extended as packages upto `5 lakh each to young entrepreneurs. Fourthly, in her budget speech Bhattacharya informed that the IT, Internet of Things and AI sectors of the state have attracted significant investment in the current FY. Fifthly, the state government has increased allocation by 25% in loans for the self-help groups. She mentioned that the state has been one of the national leaders in providing loans for this sector. Sixthly, the stamp duty rebates have been extended till March 2023. This was first decided in the Covid 19 phase to encourage real estate and some other sectors. Seventhly, Dearness Allowance of the state government employees and the other has seen a hike by 3%. It will be implemented from March 2023. In the state, underpayments of DA have been a burning issue. In this regard, the state has been a laggard. Eighthly, agriculture income tax on tea gardens for 2023-24 and 2024-25 will be waived. This will help the tea gardens as the price volatility and profitability has been an issue for the gardens. Ninthly, it has also been announced that one-time financial assistance of `2 lakh crore will be given to dependent family members of the government registered fisherman in case of death under Matsyajibi Bandhu Scheme. Tenthly, as many as 1.88 crore women will be included in the Laxmi Bhandar Project. Under this project, women aged between 25 to 60 years will be given `500 per month. Women above 60 years will get `1000.
Some critical observations
A very important aspect has been the Swasthya Sathi programme. The enhancement of allocation is only 10 crores. Opposition parties think that the government is not serious about the scheme. Many serious operations required for patients are rejected by many hospital units as disbursement of money from the government is low and not guaranteed. Some observers think that even in the super speciality hospitals not all the departments are working properly due to the lack of required manpower. It is known that West Bengal spends 6.9% of its annual budget on health and the share of health is only 1.3% of its SGDP.
Economist and BJP MLA Ashoke Lahiri said it seemed that there was no effort to increase revenue. Revenue achievement was less by `11,000 crore in FY 2022-23 compared to its target level. Principal economic advisor of the state Amit Mitra said that the government would spend 60% of its total budget on the social sector. At the same time, allocation has been increased by 8% in infrastructure spending.
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