Himanta presents Rs 1,193 cr deficit budget, to give one-tola gold to bride, rice at Re 1 for poor

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Special schemes for senior citizens, widows and specially-abled, separate councils for indigenous Muslims

HT bureau

GUWAHATI, Feb 6: BJP-led government in Assam Wednesday presented Rs. 1,193.04 crore deficit budget for 2019-20 fiscal, with just two months left for the Lok Sabha elections.

Presenting the budget in the assembly, finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced 18 flagship schemes, which include providing rice at Re 1 per kilogram for the poor and one tola (10 gram) gold to the brides, among others.

The Budget estimates of 2019-20 show a receipt of Rs. 98,339.05 crore under the consolidated fund of the state, the minister said in his budget speech.

Out of the total amount, Rs. 83147.99 crore is on revenue account and the remaining Rs. 15191.06 crore is under capital account.

With an opening balance of minus Rs 1,799.84 crore, the budget proposed to have transactions of Rs 606.80 crore during 2019-20, Sarma said in his budget speech.

He said that for special category states like Assam, companies with turnover of Rs 10 lakh are required to register for Goods and Services Tax (GST). However, to give succour to small businesses and considering the small base, the government has raised the GST threshold limit to Rs 20 lakh following approval of the GST Council effective February 1, 2019.

The minister proposed to raise the threshold limit for registration under GST for suppliers of goods to Rs 40 lakh. However, the limit stays at Rs 20 lakh for suppliers of services.

“We shall give one tola gold, costing around Rs 38,000 as of today, to brides belonging to all such communities of our state where it is customary to provide gold at the time of wedding under the Arundhati scheme,” he said.

Under the Affordable Nutrition & Nourishment Assistance (ANNA) Yojana, Sarma said the state government will provide rice at a subsidised rate of Re 1 per kg instead of Rs. 3 per kg to strengthen food security for 53 lakh households in the state.

Rice will also be given free-of-cost to 4 lakh families living in tea garden areas while two kg of sugar per month will be given to the families of tea garden workers.

“To further strengthen food security for our people, we will provide rice at a further subsidized rate of Re 1 per kg, instead of the present Rs 3 per kg, and the move will benefit 53 Lakh households,” Sarma said.

Welfare schemes for Tea Tribes to further expand to construct pucca roads in more number of tea garden labour lines & in such plantations where the lines are already paved, the work in the labour divisions will be taken up.

10 gram gold costing around Rs. 34,450 will be given to brides belonging to all such communities of the state where it is customary to provide gold at the time of wedding, the minister said. Benefits will be available to those whose marriages will be registered under the Special Marriage (Assam) Rules, 1954.

Sarma also announced that the provision of admission fee waiver up to degree level will be extended to those parents whose potential annual income is below Rs. two lakh.

The government will also provide free text books to students up to degree level (Arts, Science & Commerce) from the present level of Class XII. Battery operated ‘e-bikes’ will be provided to all girl students who secure 1st division or above in their higher secondary examinations, Sarma said.

Sarma added that the benefit is commensurate with the state’s population policy and would be made available for the first two children of a family and only in cases where the bride and groom have both attained the legal age of 18 years and 21 years, respectively.

The Assam government would verify birth certificates and conduct medical examination, if required, to ensure that the claims are true, he said.

Noticing that many parents are struggling to pay the mess bills of their children, Sarma announced a subsidy of Rs 700 per student each month to be paid for 10 months in a year, irrespective of their economic status for those students staying in the hostels of government or provincialised (funded) colleges and universities.

To promote girls’ education, Sarma said that for the financial year 2019-20, a scheme is being introduced to provide battery operated ‘e-bikes’ to all girl students who secure first division or above in their higher secondary examination.

The move will help them commute to their places of higher studies besides promoting environment friendliness. For those students who have availed higher education loans in the state, Sarma said, “for the Financial Year 2019-20, as a one-time gesture, our government will deposit Rs 50,000 to each and every loan account to ensure that the parents and the students get the benefits in one stroke”.

“Rs 50,000 will also be provided as subsidy for each and every educational loan which is sanctioned by the banks during the financial year 2019-20,” Sarma added. Hailing the role played by the indigenous Muslims of Assam – Goria, Moria, Ujani, Deshi, Jola, Poimal, Syed, etc., in the social and economic progress of the state, Sarma said the community, of late, has been facing an identity crisis and the developmental wave seems to have eluded them.

“It is high time that the state initiated a special and focused programme aimed at the all-round development of the community. We will establish a development corporation for the indigenous Muslims which will take up various programmes aimed at the holistic development of this section of society, including self-employment activities, provisioning banking linkages, etc,” he said.

The government will also be launching a new scheme under which any woman up to the age of 45 years, who has lost her husband, will receive a lump sum amount of Rs 25,000 to tide over the financial vacuum created by the loss of the bread earner.

In addition to the immediate assistance of Rs 25,000, Sarma said, the widow will also be eligible for a monthly pension of Rs 250 until she attains the age of 60 years, post which she will be moved to the old age pension scheme.

A scholarship scheme was also announced in the budget to support all girls belonging to minority communities to encourage and incentivise them to continue their higher education, he said.

The guidelines are being worked out by the Education Department and the scheme, which has been allocated Rs 200 crore, will be launched in 2019-20, he said.

On the welfare scheme for tea tribes, he said: “As an incentive for continuing their education, we will provide Rs 10,000 for every matric pass student per year for pursuing higher education”.

Besides, the government would provide breakfast, evening tea and free uniform in addition to mid-day meals for all the school students in the tea gardens.

Housing benefits at par with Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana would be provided by granting Rs 1 lakh for carrying out refurbishment and repair works of houses.

On annuity grant to ‘Devalayas’ (religious places),  Sarma said that vast swathes of land were acquired by the government under the Assam State Acquisition of Lands belonging to Religious or Charitable Institution of Public Nature Act, 1959 and has been paying perpetual annuity to the various institutions of religious nature.

As the annuity grant given out at present is not sufficient to maintain these places which are visited by large number of devotees round the year, Sarma said that from 2019-20, the government would increase the annuity amount by Rs 2 lakh for each religious institution.

Other major announcements in the budget included the ‘Aami Axomiya Initiative’ encompassing the Assamese diaspora who travel to various cities and towns in search of education, medical treatment and employment.

Sarma said the community faces emotional disconnect by being away from home and have their own struggles. “Currently, these people have no recourse to any facilitation service centres to share their problems and seek remedial measures. Our government is cognizant of this fact and we propose to appoint a welfare officer in each of the Tier I and Tier II cities which have a sizable Assamese diaspora,” Sarma said.

These welfare officers will support the distressed during times of medical emergency, provide assistance to young students to adjust to a new city and provide temporary monetary assistance to those who have lost their jobs, besides providing immediate logistical and financial assistance in cases of death of Assamese people, Sarma added.

A one-time amnesty scheme for property owners in Guwahati was also announced. The residential and commercial buildings, constructed without adherence to the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) laws, would be allowed a one-time settlement to regularize the construction against payment of the building violation penalties.

The government also posed for setting up of a separate Development Corporation for the Indigenous Muslims in the state.

Sarma said that the state has a rich history of brotherhood amongst different communities, and one of the most important segments making up our unique social fabric, are the Indigenous Muslims. “The Indigenous Muslims of Assam – Goria, Moria, Ujani, Deshi, Jola, Poimal, Syed, etc. have always played an extremely important role in the social and economic progress of the state. However, this community, off late, has been facing a crisis of identity and the developmental wave seems to have skipped this community. It is high time that the State initiated a special and focused program aimed at the all-round developmental of this community. As an initial step, our government intends to conduct a socioeconomic census of the Indigenous Muslims of the State which will help us assess their socio-economic condition. We will also establish a Development Corporation for the Indigenous Muslims which will take up various programs aimed at the holistic development of this section of the society, including self-employment activities, provisioning banking linkages etc. Once the corporation is formed during the course of the year,” the minister said.

The budget also proposed allocation of Rs 100 crore for taking up various developmental and employment related activities. The government will construct Assam Bhawans at new locations including Pune, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Bhopal, Jaipur, Ahmadabad and Bhubaneswar and the process should kick off in 2019-20 fiscal with a total allocation of Rs 706 crore.

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