Kerala eyes 'growth' budget; raises taxes on cigarettes, liquor
Thiruvananthapuram, March 15 : Higher taxes on cigarettes and liquor, a tax on lavish weddings and a rise in pensions, interest-free loans to small farmers have been proposed in a "growth-oriented" budget for 2013-14 presented by Finance Minister K.M. Mani Friday.
Presenting his 11th budget over years, Mani set a record by becoming one of the finance ministers in the country who have presented the most number of budgets.
"My objective is to see that the growth rate of the state touches double digits and that was the entire focus of my budget," said Mani to reporters after presenting his Rs.441.79 crore surplus budget.
"Agriculture is the backbone of our economy and if it flourishes, then development takes place. Now all small farmers having less than a hectare of land would get interest free loans for agriculture activities and the state government would bear the interest portion. Likewise, the present outstanding loans that have been availed of by such farmers would be written off," he said.
"Our agriculture practices have to go hi-tech and also we have to turn to bio-farming and for that there are various schemes for small farmers," he added.
Mani also announced increase in the numerous pension schemes with the minimum pension touching Rs.400 a month and for all those aged 80 and above will now get a pension of Rs.1,100, hiked from the current Rs.900. All the pension schemes will be linked to the Aadhaar card.
Another highlight in the budget was all those who hold marriages in three-star hotels and above and in auditoriums with more than 500 seating capacity will henceforth have to pay a three percent tax on the total expense of the marriage.
"This will go to a new fund called 'Mangalya Nidhi' and would go to give a cash amount of Rs.20,000 to all the women who hail from the weaker sections of the society for their marriage," said Mani.
He also said that all students who hail from the weaker sections of the society - having an annual income of less than Rs.3.50 lakh - will get scholarships of 75 percent expenses for their higher studies.
Mani proposed increasing the tax on tobacco products, except bidis, from 15 percent to 20 percent and expecting to raise an additional Rs.120 crore by the measure. On liquor, he raised the taxes by another five percent, expecting to fetch an additional Rs.250 crore.
The Left opposition, however, flayed the budget with Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan terming it a gimmick by Mani to take people for a ride.
"This budget would lead to allround pricerise and it fails to address the basic issues," said Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader and former finance minister Thomas Issac, who presented five budgets in a row from 2006 to 2011.