Kolkata: In his last budget ahead of the assembly elections in West Bengal next year, state finance minister Asim Dasgupta announced a series of measures aimed at benefiting the weaker sections of society. This includes an urban employment guarantee scheme on the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, under which the state government would offer in fiscal 2011 at least 20-25 million man-days of work to the unemployed.
Dasgupta has provided Rs250 crore for the scheme—West Bengal Urban Employment Scheme—under which “unemployed persons living in urban areas can be engaged either as a worker or as a supervisor for implementation or maintenance of any project of the state government or a municipal corporation”.
Those hired as workers would be paid Rs100 a day, and those as supervisors, Rs120 a day. Addressing the media after announcing his budget proposals, Dasgupta said the allocation for this project could be expanded if needed. He did not, however, say how many people would benefit from this scheme.
Dasgupta’s budget proposals included revival of a 35-year-old Act under which the state government would give ownership of up to five cottahs of state-owned homestead land to squatters—“landless agricultural labourers, rural artisans and fishermen”—for free.
A cottah is approximately one-sixtieth of an acre.
This scheme, according to Dasgupta, would benefit some 200,000 families. To bring more land under the state’s control and to expand the reach of this scheme, the state government would acquire land from “willing farmers” and offer them 25% premium on the ruling market price.
Among other key policy measures aimed at pleasing the rural vote bank were Dasgupta’s proposals to increase the allocation for the state government’s irrigation department by Rs495 crore, and that of the panchayat department by Rs437 crore.
In a bid to attract talent to the education sector, he raised the pay of part-time schoolteachers and college teachers by as much as 35%. He also announced plans to hire 60,000 teachers for primary schools and another 10,000 for secondary schools.
To contain the state’s fiscal deficit, which in fiscal 2011 is expected to be at 5.6% of the state domestic product (as against 6.7% in the current year), Dasgupta raised taxes on several items, which would result in the state generating up to Rs110 crore in additional revenue, net of Rs15 crore loss on account of relief measures.
He raised taxes on Indian-made foreign liquor by 700 basis points to 37%, on mobile phones worth more than Rs3,000, from 4% to 12.5%, and luxury-cum-entertainment tax on hotel tariffs above Rs3,000 a night from 5% to 10%. One basis point is equal to one-hundredth of a percentage point.
Alongside, he extended the value-added tax (VAT) waiver on imported sugar till the end of the next fiscal, and exempted rice bran, which is crushed to produce edible oil, from 4% VAT. To offer incentives to iron and steel firms, Dasgupta proposed to allow input tax credit on coal.
The state will provide Rs700 crore in subsidies on foodgrains and edible oil distributed through ration shops. The scheme that provides rice at Rs2 per kg to people below the poverty line will continue and be expanded to include 20% of the people immediately above the poverty threshold.