Bengaluru: Former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah on Wednesday said that he has asked his successor, H.D. Kumaraswamy, to roll back the increase in prices of petrol and diesel products and retain the provision of seven kilograms rice as part of “Anna Bhagya" (free rice) scheme.
“I have written a letter to the chief minister to increase the amount of rice distributed to people again to 7kg from the 5kg announced in the budget and to remove the 2% sales tax on diesel and petrol," Siddaramaiah said in Bengaluru.
The concerns raised against the specific budgetary provision presented by Kumaraswamy brings to the fore the underlying problems of the nearly two-month-old coalition government of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), which was formed after the state’s electorate delivered a fractured verdict in the May assembly elections.
Siddaramaiah had presented a full budget in February. However, Kumaraswamy had insisted on presenting another budget, which would include the JD(S) election manifesto promise of waiving off farm loans in the state.
Kumaraswamy had, apart from increasing taxes on petrol and diesel, also increased duties on excise among other products to help fund the ₹ 34,000 crore farm loan waiver.
“Anna Bhagya is not just a government scheme for me, but a noble deed to feed the poor and hungry," Siddaramaiah said in his letter and added that it was a scheme that transcends barriers of caste and religion.
The government had set aside ₹ 2,450 crore for Anna Bhagya in the budget and added that it would be able to save only around ₹ 600-700 crore by reducing the provision from 7kg to5 kg, the former CM said in his letter.
Siddaramaiah, who has so far presented 13 state budgets, stated that the cost of providing 7kg of free rice to 3.85 crore beneficiaries over five years (2013-18) cost ₹ 11,564 crore.
The former chief minister, who is now the chairman of the coordination and monitoring committee set up to help the smooth functioning of the coalition government, had initially opposed the proposal by Kumaraswamy to present a full fledged budget leading to a stand-off between the two leaders who have shared a tempestuous past.
Siddaramaiah also asked the state government to roll back the 2% hike in petrol and diesel prices as it was against the Congress stand.
During the assembly elections, the Congress had taken a stand against the constant increase of petrol and diesel prices by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Union government, he said.
“Our government and party, both at the state and the national level, have opposed Narendra Modi’s decision to increase petrol and diesel prices nine times despite a reduction in crude prices internationally. This has led to price rise and has affected the people, which is why I have appealed to the chief minister to roll back the increase in tax," Siddaramaiah said.