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Speech with power punch

- Elections in mind, Nitish sop for farmers & minorities

Patna, Feb. 17: The state’s interim budget of the 2014-15 financial year has neither proposed any fresh tax nor new sops but it has effectively focused on electricity, bonus to the farmers, women empowerment, fencing of graveyard — the sectors that the chief minister has been “nursing” to revive his fortunes in the upcoming general elections.

The major allocations for the next four months, as envisaged in the interim budget, include Rs 294.65 crore to North Bihar Power Distribution Company Limited, Rs 250 crore to ensure a bonus of Rs 250 per quintal for procurement of paddy from farmers, Rs 35 crore for fencing graveyards and Rs 33.2 crore for women empowerment.

Water resources minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary presented the budget in the Assembly today on behalf of chief minister Nitish Kumar, who also holds the finance portfolio, amid noisy scenes created by the BJP. Led by the Leader of Opposition, Nand Kishore Yadav, the BJP members strongly objected to Choudhary setting a “wrong precedent” by presenting the budget despite the presence of the finance minister (Nitish) in the House.

But Choudhary stayed focused, making major budgetary allocations for the “constituency” that Nitish has been nursing with his eyes on the Lok Sabha polls. Experts believe that a bonus of whopping Rs 250 crore on per quintal paddy procurement might go a long way in winning over the farmers in the state which still has over 75 per cent people depending on agriculture.

The generous allocation for fencing of graveyard and women empowerment are, apparently, aimed at strengthening the “constituency” of Muslims who constitute about 16 per cent of the state’s electorate, and women. They are believed to be in consonance with Nitish’s stepped-up efforts to woo the minorities particularly after parting ways with the BJP on the projection of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate.

Former finance minister Sushil Kumar Modi said the budget did not have anything new. “We have left a very sound financial foundation and healthy tradition. The only new thing that the government has introduced is the abrogation of the tradition,” Modi said, emphasising there was no reason for Nitish to let one of his cabinet colleagues read out the budget speech when he was present in the House.

Modi, as finance minister, had presented budgets from 2006 till the BJP and the JD(U) parted ways in June 2013.

However, Choudhary countered Sushil’s claim in the post-budget presentation news conference.

Choudhary added: “The total revenue receipt for this fiscal year is Rs 1,01,939.46 crore — 27.32 per cent more than 80,066.47 crore in the 2012-13 budget presented by the former finance minister. It establishes the Nitish government’s consistency with maintaining fiscal discipline,” Choudhary said.

The size of the interim budget is worth Rs 38,962.05 crore — one-third of the total annual budget size of Rs 1,16,886.16 crore. Similarly, the plan expenditure for the next four months stands worth Rs 1,082.49 crore and non-plan expenditure worth Rs 2,914.31 crore. The interim budget has earmarked Rs 65.10 crore as its share for the centrally sponsored scheme.

Choudhary made a special mention of Nitish’s announcement to provide sanitary napkins to the girl students above 12 years of age in all government schools across the state. “The scheme will benefit about 40 lakh girl students ensuring a revolutionary awareness among them about their health and sanitation. The scheme will revolutionise the society in as big way as the scheme of giving bicycles and uniforms have done,” he said.

Apart from electricity, agriculture and graveyards, the interim budget has allocated Rs 75.34 crore for building infrastructure in Bihar Agriculture University, Sabour (Bhagalpur) and Rs 50 crore for setting up of 30 beds each in 201 primary health centres of the state.


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