The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mufti mantra: Borrow less

Srinagar, June 3: For the first time in its history, Jammu and Kashmir will have a zero deficit budget this fiscal year. This is just one of the many firsts to the budget tabled in the Assembly by finance minister, Muzaffar Hussain Beigh, today.

In his first budget since the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led coalition government took office late last year, Beigh presented a fully-funded document. The fiscal deficit has been brought down from Rs 1,881 crore to Rs 950 crore, with Rs 195 crore as surplus.

The state has decided to switch to Value Added Tax by October 1 this year.

Setting out to establish fiscal autonomy, the state government has for the first time decided its plan independent of the Planning Commission.

Tax revenue is sought to be reduced by 15 per cent and expenditure by one per cent. Borrowings have been reduced from Rs 1,771 crore to Rs 1,282 crore.

Beigh said the new financial mantra coined by the chief minister is: ďDonít beg, donít steal and borrow less.Ē This had been followed in preparing the 2003-04 budget, he added.

The minister presented proposals on abolition of land revenue and surcharge levied on land. Additional levies and special tolls on export of fresh fruit and walnuts were withdrawn.

The budget provides one yearís sales tax holiday for hotels, restaurants and dhabas which were badly hit by terrorism in the state. It extends interest subsidies enjoyed by some sections of the tourism industry to travel agents and operators.

No entertainment duty will be charged till March 2005. The Roshni scheme regularising land in adverse possession for many years, which was introduced by the Farooq Abdullah government, will be made more practicable with pro-active participation of occupants to avoid litigation.

Beigh announced a package of employee-friendly measures. They include release of three per cent dearness allowance to employees and pensioners from January 1 this year. It will be paid in cash. The government also announced medical insurance for hospitalisation charges. The insurance has been negotiated with National Insurance.

Under the scheme, each employee, his or her spouse and two dependants up to the age of 58 will have a composite insurance cover of Rs 3 lakh on payment of a an annual premium of Rs 1,400.

The government will offer a 50 per cent subsidy in premium payment for the first year for non-gazetted employees and 25 per cent for other employees. Reimbursement claims exceeding Rs 3 lakh for critical illnesses will be dealt with under the existing rules. The scheme also covers employees of public sector units and autonomous bodies if they pay premiums.

The finance minister proposed bringing legislators and ex-legislators under the purview of a similar scheme.

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