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Naveen treads populist path

Bhubaneswar, Feb. 19: Naveen Patnaik government today presented a tax-free populist budget for 2013-14 with a thrust on development of agriculture.

With an eye on polls, budgetary provisions have also been made for all the populist measures, including the much-hyped Re 1-a-kg-rice scheme, announced earlier by Naveen.

The government has also focused on development of road and power infrastructure. To send a message to farmers that it was concerned about them, the state government, for the first time, presented a special budget for agriculture sector.

Finance minister Prasanna Acharya said: “After Karnataka, Odisha is the second state to present a separate budget on agriculture. The public investment in agriculture and allied sector in the budget has been enhanced to Rs 7,161.84 crore in 2013-14 from Rs 5,627.87 crore in 2012-13.”

Presenting a Rs 60,303-crore revenue surplus budget, Acharya announced a health insurance for farmers under the Biju Krushak Kalyan Yojana and allocated Rs 100 crore for it.

The state government also announced free cell phones for farmers.

“Once the pilot scheme is successful, it will be extended to other areas. In the first phase, nearly 20,000 farmers, registered under the regulated market societies, will be given mobile phones,” said the finance minister.

Naveen said: “We have placed a special budget for agriculture — which shows our commitment towards the farmers.”

However, the Opposition parties described the budget as “conventional and directionless”.

Senior Congress leader Narasingh Mishra said: “Though the state government has admitted in the governor’s address that there is still a poverty rate of more than 50 per cent in the state, there is no thrust on the socio-economic development for the poor and downtrodden.”

Former finance minister Panchanan Kanungo said that since this was the election year, the government had announced a number of populist measures for the farmers. “But, the budgetary allocation for these schemes is too meagre. Only 20,000 farmers will get benefits under the schemes,” he said.

According to the budget proposals, financial assistance will also be provided as input subsidy to the farmers and Rs 30 crore been allocated as the state’s share of premium for crop insurance.

Farmers will also be provided short-term and medium-term loan at a lower interest of 2 per cent per annum.

The state government has also announced sops for the fishermen community that constitutes a major chunk of the vote bank. Nearly one lakh fishermen will be provided with SIM cards to receive voice messages.

The government will set up dedicated agriculture feeders with an allocation of Rs 150 crore for ensuring uninterrupted power supply to the farm and fisheries sector.

Acharya said Odisha’s economic growth rate remained much higher that the national growth rate in 2013-14. “While the nation’s growth rate would remain within 5 to 6 per cent, the state’s growth rate in terms of Gross State Domestic Product could be in the range of 6.5 per cent to 7 per cent,” he said.

Though the state government did not impose any new tax, it proposed to raise additional revenue by revising stamp duty on mining lease and its renewal.

With a focus on infrastructure development, the government aims to complete double-laning of 5,587km state highways in four years with an estimated outlay of Rs 3,000 crore. “Rs 100 crore has been provided for the scheme in the coming year,” he said.

The minister said as the state did not receive adequate funds to expedite the ongoing railway projects, it had on its own earmarked Rs 100 crore for railway infrastructure development projects. The state government has made it clear that its fight against the Maoist menace will be further intensified.

“Two specialised India Reserve Battalions, having both security and engineering components, will be developed,” said the finance minister.