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Drabu swings to populism in ‘give-more-take-less’ budget

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Srinagar, Jan 11: Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu, on Thursday, presented the J&K Budget 2018-19 in the Legislative Assembly ensuring to “cover all stakeholders in it”.
In his budget speech spread over several thousand words, Dr Drabu announced a slew of decisions that, seemingly, will have a positive impact on several sections of the society.
Named Budget 2018-19: Turning the Corner, the FM claimed it was “culmination of sustained work in building new systems for public expenditure management.”
“Over the last three years, we have made concerted and coordinated efforts to overhaul the style and substance of financial management of the state,” the FM said in his opening remarks.
He said that for the first time in the budgetary history of J&K, the revised estimates for the current year were much better than the budget estimates that he had presented last year.
Highlighting three different numbers to prove his claim, Drabu said that the tax revenues which were estimated to be Rs. 9,931 crore exceeded and in the process have crossed the Rs.10,000 crore mark of own tax collection.
“I had estimated an unfunded resource gap of over Rs. 3,000 crore. As the year comes to an end, I have a surplus of more than Rs. 1,300 crore,” he said.
The FM added that the fiscal deficit, which was estimated at around 9.5 per cent, has actually turned out to be around 5.7 per cent. An improvement of nearly 400 basis points
“This is unprecedented,” he said.
Later speaking to The Kashmir Monitor, Drabu said how he wanted the budget to cover everyone.
“It is not a departmental budget. It is a budget that focuses on the stakeholders. It covers government employees, youth, business, and I have named other stakeholders as well,” he said.
“For me it is not a budget of numbers, it is a budget of social change. Last year, we built systems and this year we are making those systems deliver. Yes it is a populist budget, but without any extra cost to the exchequer,” Drabu added.
For government employees, the FM, during his speech, said the government was “committed to implement 7th Pay Commission Recommendations from April 1, 2018, which will be effective from 1st January, 2016.”
He also announced that the government has reduced the eligibility for full pension from 28 years of qualifying service to 20 years of qualifying service.
“This measure will benefit more than half of the number of employees on the rolls of the Government, as they were denied full pension for want of qualifying service,” he said.
He added that Government employees will, henceforth, be required to furnish only credit and debit statements for the last five years for their final GP fund withdrawal.
“Once our IT systems and processes improve next year, I will dispense with this also,” he said adding that these measures were taken to get rid of the cumbersome trend wherein retiring employees were asked to produce a certificate relating to withdrawals since their joining of service.
He also announced the release of one per cent dearness allowance (DA) in favour of state government employees due from July 1, 2017.
In another interesting measure, the FM also spoke about the well-being of transgenders, which he said, were one of the most marginalised sections of the society.
“I propose every transgender shall be treated as living under BPL unless indicated otherwise. As such, he/she will be entitled to all such Government amenities and programs that are available for the BPL category like cheap food-grains, LPG, electricity connections, IAY scheme etc,” he said.
He also announced free life and medical insurance cover and a monthly sustenance pension on the pattern of old age pension scheme for all transgender people above the age of 60 who are registered with the Social Welfare Department.
“In all cases where gender re-assignment surgeries can be undertaken, entire cost of treatment would be borne by the state Government. I propose to make an initial provision of Rs. 1.00 crore for their welfare,” he said.
The FM also announced amnesties to several business sections even as he said that amnesties per se make for bad economics but sometimes they are necessary to help the sector make a clean break with the past and move on.
Drabu announced to grant waiver of penalty and interest on arrears of tax in respect of all the dealers registered under the provisions of J&K Value Added Tax, 2005 and J&K General Sales Tax Act, 1962. This amnesty, he said, will also apply to Telecom Operators registered under the provisions of J&K General Sales Tax Act, 1962.
In addition, he also announced to waive off interest and penalty on all the power arrears owed to the Government by the industrialists and hoteliers and tourist resort owners.
“A circular detailing out the exact modalities of the settlement will be issued by the Finance Department,” he said.
The FM said he has also decided to offer power amnesty to all the small scale industrial units of the State.
“Accordingly, I propose to waive off interest and penal charges on the power arrears of these units till 31st December, 2017,” he said adding for all those industrial units that have been declared sick by the department of Industries and Commerce, “I have decided to waive off the penal interest and surcharge on power dues”.
For the transport sector, Drabu announced waiving off the token tax and passenger tax for six months from 1st July, 2016 to 31st December, 2016.
“These measures have not alleviated the pain of the transporters as such, to give them complete relief, I propose to waive off all past arrears of passenger tax up to 31st December, 2017,” he said.
Drabu said the Government was launching an improved and enhanced Group Mediclaim Insurance Policy.
Unlike in the past when only gazetted employees were insured, now all the Government employees including pensioners have been covered along with 5 family members.
“Given the fact that there are 4.5 lakh employees, and about 1.5 lakh pensioners, this insurance cover extends to about 30 lakh people,” he said.
He said the employees of autonomous bodies, PSUs, Local Bodies are free to voluntarily opt for this scheme.
“I am making this scheme applicable to accredited working journalists also,” the FM said.
Drabu said that government had also increased the Personal Accidental Insurance from Rs. 5.00 lakh to Rs. 10.00 lakh.
As a major social security initiative for the children who lose their parents, “unmarried daughters” of the employees, who were hitherto not entitled to receive pension, have now been made eligible to receive pension once the employee and his/her spouse is no more.
“This is a step towards promoting gender equity as well. Also, the Group Mediclaim Insurance Policy which, unlike in the past covered only gazetted employees, will now also be available to the Government employees including pensioners and accredited journalists. Given the fact that there are 4.5 lakh employees, and about 1.5 lakh pensioners, this insurance cover extends to about 30 lakh people,” he said and added that even the BPL families would be now covered under the insurance.
To cater to the rural areas of the State where the government employees are reluctant to get posted, the Finance Minister said such a practice impacted the service delivery. “In order to incentivise transfers and postings in rural areas, Government shall come out with a scheme to incentivise the postings in the remote areas. Besides having rational framework of allowances, it will also have a built-in incentive for postings in the rural areas, while dis-incentivising “deployment” in urban areas,” he said.
The Finance Minister said the last few years have been very damaging for business in general. “Be it tourism, manufacturing, or household enterprises, all are in one kind of a distress or the other. First the localised factors; floods of 2014, and then the disturbances of 2016, then came the policy shock of demonetisation which was followed by a major tax regime change, the Goods and Services Tax. The short term disruptive influence has been more pronounced on the SMEs all around the country, more so in J&K,” he said.
“Considering the importance of industries for employment generation, I also propose an incentive for SMEs and industrial units to get them listed at SME Exchange and other Stock Exchanges in the country to raise capital through IPOs or other market tools. I make an initial budgetary provision of Rs. 1.00 crore and will provide additional money, if required,” he said.
To mitigate the losses suffered during the floods of 2014 and the situation in 2016, Dr Drabu said the RBI approved a loan restructuring package for borrowers in the state. “In deference to our Chief Minister, I have decided to rollout a “CM’s Business Interest Relief Scheme”. For all the RBI approved restructured accounts, the Government will contribute one third of the total interest payment of all these borrowers. In other words, one third of the monthly instalment will be paid by the state Government and two thirds will be paid by the borrowers,” he said and added that it is a conscientious and caring budget reaching out to every section of the society.
In his concluding remarks he said that people may have noted that “this Budget gives much more than it takes”.
“This idea of giving more and taking less doesn’t come naturally to a finance person. This idea of giving more and taking less doesn’t come naturally to a finance person; it has come from the Hon’ble Chief Minister. In my budget approach meeting with her earlier last month, she told me what is best captured by a couplet of Allama Iqbal: Acha hai dil kay saath rahay pasban-e aql, Lekin kabhi kabhi isey tanha bhi choad dey!” he said.


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3 militants killed in Budgam encounter

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Srinagar, Jan 21: Three militant of Hizbul Mujahideen outfit were killed in an encounter at Hapatnar woods in Charar-e-Shareef area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district on Monday.

News agency Global News Service quoted a senior police officer saying that a joint team of Army’s 53 RR, SOG and CRPF launched a cordon-and-search operation in forest area of Hapatnar early Monday morning following “credible inputs” about the presence of some militants.

As the joint team of forces intensified the combing operation, the militants hiding in the area opened fire triggering off a gunfight which continued intermittently till late in the evening.

 

During the course of gunfight, three militants belonged to Hizbul Mujahideen outfit were killed, the officer said.

The operation was prolonged due to the tough terrain amid inclement weather conditions, he added.”So far one body has been recovered along with arms and ammunition. The other two bodies which are lying inside the hideout are yet to be retrieved,” the officer said.

“The identity of the slain is being ascertained,” the officer said.

The officer said that the government forces have also blasted the hideout of the militants in the mountainous area, covered under plenty of snow.

Meanwhile, sources identified one among the slain Shahid Baba of Drabgam, Pulwama. (With inputs from GNS)

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Snow, rains persist: Land, air traffic disrupted

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Srinagar, Jan 21: Although not as severe as predicted, fresh snowfall and rains were Monday lashed Kashmir bringing some respite to the people from the cold wave.
The plains of Kashmir witnessed moderate rainfall from early hours of Monday, while there were reports of snowfall in higher reaches of the valley, officials said here.
The MeT Office has forecast widespread rain and snow over the state with heavy falls at isolated places till Tuesday.
Meanwhile, traffic on the 300-km long Srinagar-Jammu highway was halted because of heavy snowfall on the stretch.
“Today no movement of vehicular traffic on Jammu Srinagar NHW from Jammu towards Srinagar and vice versa as road blocked due to snow accumulation at Nowgam-Jawahar Tunnel-Qazigund Sector and still snowing,” J&K Traffic Police tweeted Monday morning.
Bad weather conditions also disrupted operations at the Srinagar International Airport here, leading to the cancellation of four flights, officials said.
“Due to the inclement weather, four of the 27 flights to and fro Srinagar were cancelled on Monday,” an official of the Airport Authority of India.
Another 11 flights got delayed due to poor visibility and intermittent rainfall since Monday morning, he said.
The minimum temperature in Srinagar on Sunday settled at minus 0.3 degree Celsius, same as previous night, a MET official said.
He said Qazigund, the gateway town to the valley, in south Kashmir recorded a low of 0.6 degree Celsius, while the nearby Kokernag town registered a low of minus 0.3 degrees Celsius Sunday night.
The mercury in Kupwara town in north Kashmir settled at a low of minus 0.6 degree Celsius. Gulmarg ski-resort in north Kashmir recorded a low of minus 4 degrees Celsius Sunday night, while Pahalgam tourist resort, in south Kashmir, recorded a low of 0.2 degrees Celsius, the official said.
He said Leh, in the frontier Ladakh region, recorded a low of minus 5.6 degrees Celsius, while the mercury in Kargil registered a low of minus 14.0 degrees Celsius. Kargil was the coldest recorded place in Jammu and Kashmir, colder than even Drass town which recorded a low of minus 6.8 degrees Celsius.
Kashmir is currently under the grip of ‘Chillai Kalan’, the 40-day harshest period of winter when the chances of snowfall are maximum and the temperature drops considerably.
‘Chillai Kalan’ ends on January 31, but the cold wave continues even after that in Kashmir. The 40-day period is followed by a 20-day long ‘Chillai Khurd’ (small cold) and a 10-day long ‘Chillai Bachha’ (baby cold).

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Lack of funds halts vital JK tourism projects

Bisma Bhat

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Srinagar, Jan 21: The Governor-led administration is mulling to start new projects to boost tourism in Kashmir even as several old ones have been left midway due to want of funds.

In December last year, the administration ordered the constitution of an official panel for identification of new projects in tourism sector to be implemented under Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP).

Back in 2014, the Government of India, under Project/Infrastructure Development for Destination and Circuits (PIDDC), had sanctioned Rs 7593.88 lakh for development of basic tourism infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir through private investment, opening of new potential destinations and development of heritage, adventure, and pilgrim and eco-tourism.

 

However, the projects have been left incomplete as the Centre has, as per the latest official data, released only Rs 3504.80 lakh of the sanctioned amount against which the department shows 100 percent expenditure.

Now, due to the unavailability of funds, the PIDDC project is on standstill.

The project included development of Eidgah, face-lifting of Khankahi Moula, Development of Jamia Masjid Heritage Corridor, Renovation of Aali Masjid, Upgrading of Ziyarat Abdul Razaq Sahib at Hawal, Ziyarat Hazrat Balaad Rumi at Rajouri Kadal, Ziyarat Akhoon Sahib and TajBibi at Fateh Kadal, Ziyarat Hazrat Noor Shaha Sahib at Narwara, and Conservation of areas from Naagar Nagar to Watlab.

The tourist circuit from Naagar Nagar to Watlab, which was a key component of the project, still requires Rs 2312.90 lakh to be completed, official data shows.

Another main component of PIDDC project, construction of Trans Himalayan Culture Centre in Leh, too requires further Rs 1094.48 lakh for completion.

Similarly, development of Khiram Shrine in South Kashmir’s Bijbehara town also remains incomplete for want of funds.
Section Officer of Planning, Tourism Department, Sajad Ahmad, told The Kashmir Monitor that “65 per cent” of the work has been completed on Naagar Nagar to Watlab component of the project.

“We had to stop the work because the Centre did not release the funds,” he added.

Executive Engineer, JK Tourism, Abdul Qayoom Kirmani said they have asked the Government of India for the pending funds and also sent to them the proposal of the new projects.
“We have identified new Rs 100 crore new projects under PMDP-II, which comprises of nine circuits,” he said.

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