Jammu, Jan 17: Minister for Finance, Dr Haseeb Drabu Wednesday said the wide-ranging fiscal and welfare measures announced in the State budget are aimed at setting JK’s sluggish economy on the path of revival and recovery.
“It took this Government three years to restore the rotten fiscal system, put in place a sustainable Public Expenditure Policy and set the State’s economy on the path of steady recovery and revival,” Dr Drabu said while winding up the discussion of the Budget proposals in the Legislative Council today.
Enumerating, the Finance Minister said, that J&K has landed up in a serious fiscal crisis because of various long and short term reasons including protracted political turmoil, 2014 floods, 2016 disturbances, demonetization and GST. “When I talk of fiscal crisis, let me make it clear, I am not talking about the Government finances, but the entire economic system involving every section of the society,” he said and added that the only way to set the State’s economy on the recovery and revival path is to enhance autonomous public expenditure, which is the basic theme of this Budget.
He said the fundamental intent of making it a stakeholders’ Budget is to generate income across various levels of people, pump public money into the system and push economic revival through a sustained effort. “That is why we have announced various measures in this budget so that money keeps continuously flowing and circulating in the system to keep the economy enduring,” Dr Drabu said and added that these measures would facilitate greater flow of cash in the system which would go a long way in the revival the sluggish economy.
Defending his decision of extending various financial benefits to the employees, he said there are 4.5 lakh employees and every employee has a family of at least five persons. “That means that a population of around 25 lakh souls is directly linked to the government. If they spend, the economy improves, if they save money, it also helps,” he said and added that the same dictum is the main reason for amnesties that are a part of the budget. “When we announce some amnesty, we actually write off somebody’s liability and when there is no liability, it automatically becomes income,” he explained.
He said the focus of the renewed fiscal policy is to enlarge constituency of peace, restore dignity of the state and its people and make it relevant for the times that we live in and essentially for the stakeholders. “This is perhaps the first budget that is not about the government departments but the stakeholders encompassing every section of the society including poorest of the poor, marginalized, employees, traders, industrialists, agriculturists, women, girls, students, youth and destitute,” Dr Drabu said and added that he wanted to make this budget relevant for the times and the people of the State and its economy. “And I am contended that I have achieved the objective to a significant extent,” he said and added that with the budgetary edifice in place, now is the time to consolidate the fiscal and budgetary reforms at the departmental level for sustained and self-generating efficiency gains.
Dr Drabu reiterated that the system building started in 2015 has a positive impact, Dr Drabu said the biggest proof is that perhaps for the first time in the budgetary history of J&K, the revised estimates for the current year are much better than the budget estimates that he had presented last year.
Enumerating he said, three numbers stand out: tax revenues were estimated to be Rs 9931 crore. These have been exceeded and in the process, we have crossed the Rs 10000 crore mark of own tax collection. “Second, I had estimated an unfunded resource gap of over Rs 3000 crores. As the year comes to an end, I have a surplus of more than Rs 1300 crore. Third, the fiscal deficit which is regarded to be the single most important indicator of fiscal performance was estimated at around 9.5 percent but has actually turned out to be around 5.7 percent; an improvement of nearly 400 basis points. This is unprecedented,” he said and added that because of a well-run financial setup, the Govt is now able to take decisions that change lives of the people for good, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized.
The Finance Minister observed that the state imports more from other states than it exports and hence more money goes out of the system. He said to attract more investment in the state, the government need to handhold and incentivise the industry to attract more investments that will help to increase the flow of money in the system. Dr Drabu informed that in 2012-13, out of one rupee, 36 paisa were going out of the state towards imports while it has been gradually brought down up to 30 paisa this year that has helped to retain more money in the state. He said the government has also been able to reduce the GPF liability from Rs 20000 crore to Rs 8000 crore besides reducing the liabilities of power and other concerned agencies.
He said the Government is at the same time trying to bring up a new rural fiscal architecture by linking Panchayats with Rural and Cooperative Banks. “We want to effectively revive the institutions of rural local governance in the State with a sustainable supportive fiscal system side by side,” he said and added that the capital infusion of Rs 250 crore to three Cooperative Banks and the decision to connect these banks with the Panchayats will provide regular fund flow to these banks. He said a parallel financial structure has been initiated for empowering the Panchayats and further boosting the rural economy.
Speaking on the recent initiative taken by the government for construction workers, the Minister said that in the last three years, the funds have been increased for their welfare including insurance cover, overdraft facility and other measures for the construction workers.
Elaborating on the provisions kept in the Budget for Agriculture, sector, Dr Drabu said that the focus of the government is to promote commercial agriculture to transform the rural economy for which the spending is more than 10 times. He further said that Horticulture is a major part of agriculture sector and thrust is on professionalizing these sectors to generate more employment.
The Finance Minister said that the government has recently increased the minimum wages of un-skilled, skilled and highly skilled workers and this move will in turn raise the market wages prevailing in the state thereby increasing the incomes of the poorest. He further said the proposed uniform Labour Code will be a landmark initiative for the welfare of the labourers.
Defending the decision of keeping the Toll Tax regime intact in the GST era, Dr Drabu said it is vital to the policy making in the state. “It is not a matter of revenue as that is too small an amount,” he said. “It is vital to the requirements of the state to know what and how much comes and goes out of the State. It is the only gateway we have and the information is required for the protection of the local industry. Trade balance is something that we must always know and the gap in it is surging.”
Dr Drabu said the toll tax has been there since 1938. Between 2003 and 2010, it increased by half and now it saw a marginal shift and it has suddenly become an issue. “Toll is more important for protection of local industry,” he said.
Responding to the concerns of the Legislators regarding J&K Bank, Dr Drabu assured the House that although he favours complete autonomy in the functioning of the Bank, but as a regulator he will take the requisite measures to address the issues concerning the Bank. “We would look into the issues, if any, in the JK Bank and ensure that its functioning is made more transparent. However, it should not be a reason for getting the issue to the House for a debate because it has costs for the finance institution,” he maintained.
ISIS claims responsibility for Colombo blasts, city on high alert
Colombo: Islamic state has claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings in Sri Lanka which killed 321 people and injured about 500 others, the group’s AMAQ news agency said on Tuesday.
The group did not give evidence for its claim.
Sri Lanka on Tuesday placed all police stations in Colombo on high alert as police were hunting for an unidentified container truck and a van, believed to be carrying explosives.
A warning issued by the Director of Security at the Colombo Harbour said intelligence had found information that an unidentified container truck and a van carrying a potential explosive device was heading towards Colombo. Search operations are currently underway at the Colombo Harbour for the potential threat.
The alert came as the island nation observed a day of national mourning for over 320 people killed in a series on blasts on Easter Sunday.
Phase III Lok Sabha polls: Anantnag to go to polls today
Srinagar, Apr 22: The Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency in Jammu and Kashmir goes to the polls in the third phase on Tuesday even as the security forces face a serious challenge to ensure that the democratic process passes off peacefully.
Due to the overwhelming security concerns, the Anantnag parliamentary constituency comprising four districts — Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama — will vote in three phases. Polling in Anantnag will be held on Tuesday, followed by Kulgam (April 29) and Pulwama and Shopian (May 6).Over 100 additional companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) have been deployed to augment an already existing large contingent of state police and CAPF personnel deployed on poll duty in this constituency.
Because of the serious security challenges in the constituency, by-poll could not be held in Anantnag after Mehbooba Mufti, President of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), resigned the seat in 2016 to become the state’s Chief Minister following the death of her father, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.
In addition to the presence of foreign militants, homegrown militancy is a big challenge here for the agencies maintaining ‘law and order’.
In the last four years, a large number of local youth, majority of them well-educated and belonging to upper middle class families, have joined militant ranks in the four districts of Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama.
The problems for the security personnel have been compounded by stone pelting at armed forces during security operations against holed up militants, thousands of mourners turning out to attend funerals of slain militants and the failure of the mainstream politicians to move out even in areas from where they were voted to the state Assembly in 2014.
Due to security issues, the voting process here would be held between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., instead of the 6 p.m. deadline observed in the other constituencies of the state.
While there are five main candidates in the fray from Anantnag — PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, Congress’ Ghulam Ahmad Mir, Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference (NC), Sofi Yusuf of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Chowdhary Zafar Ali of the Peoples Conference (PC) — the key contest here is between Mufti and state Congress President Mir.
Out of the 16 Assembly segments under the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency, the PDP had won 11, Congress 2, NC 2 and CPI-M 1 in the 2014 Assembly elections.
Given these statistics, Mufti’s victory may look like a cakewalk, but the ground situation has undergone a sea change since 2014.
The failed ruling alliance between the PDP and the BJP in the state has hit the former’s prospects in Anantnag as it has done in the rest of the Muslim majority Valley.
Mufti has taken a huge gamble by deciding to fight the Lok Sabha polls from here. Her victory or defeat would seriously impact the prospects of her party in the state Assembly elections likely to be held later this year.
Her problems have been compounded by Mir throwing his hat in the electoral arena. Mir has committed vote banks in Dooru, Shangus, Kokernag and Devsar segments.
While it is expected that the voter turnout would be good in these segments, there is a possibility of thin voter turnout in the segments where the PDP believes its vote banks exist.
Given this reality, the final result could see a photo finish between Mir and Mufti.
Poll campaign by different parties here has been generally muted because of security constraints.
How many voters come out to vote on Tuesday would be keenly watched. But no matter what, the security forces will have their tasks cut out to ensure that polling is conducted smoothly in this volatile constituency.
SRI LANKA BOMBINGS: Death toll rises to 290
Colombo, Apr 22: The toll in the eight coordinated bomb blasts that rocked Sri Lanka during Easter celebrations rose to 290, police said on Monday.
Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara told The New York Times that 24 people have been arrested in connection with the deadly explosions in which nearly 500 people were injured on Sunday.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the reporters that the authorities had prior “information regarding a possible attack” before the bomb blasts ripped through churches and hotels in Colombo and two other towns in the island nation.
“While this goes on we must also look into why adequate precautions were not taken,” Wickremesinghe was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.
The police said that the investigation will examine reports why the intelligence community failed to detect or warn of possible suicide attacks ahead of the blasts, the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war 10 years ago.
They also said that an improvised pipe bomb found close to Colombo’s main airport late on Sunday, was successfully detonated. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The Prime Minister said, “So far the names that have come up are local,” adding that the investigators are looking into whether the attackers had any “overseas links”.
According to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry, at least 17 people from eight countries, including three from India, were among those who were killed in the serial blasts. The dead included five citizens of Britain, three Danes, two each from China and Turkey and one each from the Netherlands and Portugal, reported CNN.
The ministry said that 19 foreign nationals injured in the attacks are receiving treatment at Colombo National Hospital.
Following the bomb attacks, the Sri Lankan government had imposed a 12-hour island-wide curfew from 6:00 pm on Sunday.
After a discussion with heads of security forces and all other departments regarding the current security situation in the country, President Maithripala Sirisena had announced that the government and private schools would remain closed till Tuesday.
In addition, steps have been taken to temporarily block all social media accounts until the investigations are concluded.
‘National Tawheed Jamath’ suspected plotters: Sri Lanka
Press Trust of India
Colombo, Apr 22: A local outfit identified as the ‘National Tawheed Jamath’ is suspected of plotting the deadly Easter blasts that killed 290 people and wounded 500 others in the worst terror attack in the country’s history, a top Sri Lankan minister said on Monday.
Health Minister and the government spokesman, Rajitha Senaratne, also said that all suicide bombers involved in the blasts are believed to be Sri Lankan nationals.
Speaking at a press conference here, the minister said that the Chief of National Intelligence had warned the Inspector General of Police (IGP) regarding the probable attacks before April 11.
“On April 4, international intelligence agencies had warned of these attacks. The IGP was informed on April 9,” Senaratne said.
He said that the local outfit identified as the National Tawheed Jamath – a radical Muslim group – is suspected of plotting the deadly explosions.
“There may be international links to them,” he added.
Senaratne sought resignation of police chief Pujith Jayasundera in view of the major security lapse.
Rauff Hakeem, a government minister and the leader of the main Muslim party – Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said that it was lamentable that no preventive action had been taken despite the inputs.
“They have known this…, the names have been given, identified, but (they) took no action,” he added.
Two Sri Lankan Muslim groups – the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama and the National Shoora Council – have condemned the blasts and offered condolences to the Christian community.
They have urged that all culprits be brought to book.
Seven suicide bombers were involved in eight blasts that targeted St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and Zeon Church in Batticaloa when the Easter Sunday mass were in progress. The explosions also struck three five-star hotels in Colombo – the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.
No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks, but police have so far arrested 24 people.