J&K: Lukewarm Response to Sitharaman’s Budget Allocation of Rs 1.18 Lakh Crore for UT
Srinagar: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented a Rs 1.18 lakh crore budget for the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir for the year 2023-24, but the allocation evoked a mixed response in the region.
The budget for the UT was tabled by Union Minister of State for Finance Pankaj Chaudhary on Monday. Sitharaman began her budget speech stating that the UT of Jammu and Kashmir had witnessed “unprecedented level” of development in various sectors since “historic changes” in August 2019.
This is the fourth budget presented by the Finance Minister in Parliament since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A and the subsequent bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two UTs in 2019. Many in the region also argued that the budget did not reflect the ground reality in the absence of a local government.
The budget has set a goal to double the UT's GDP (gross domestic product) within the next five years promising good governance and strengthening grass-root democracy. The minister also emphasised promoting investments and industrial growth as also strengthening women’s empowerment.
Sitharaman promised that Kashmir Valley would be connected to the rest of the country through rail network by the end of 2023 and that the government also planned to roll out light Metro rail in Jammu and Srinagar during the next financial year.
"The total budget estimate for the fiscal is Rs 1,18,500 crore, of which developmental expenditure is of the order of Rs 41,491 crore," she said.
The minister added that the expected revenue receipts are Rs 1,06,061 crore whereas revenue expenditure was expected to be Rs 77,009 crore, thereby making available a revenue surplus for capital expenditure of Rs 29,052 crore.
Sitharaman said in preparation for the G20 summit meetings, the government of Jammu and Kashmir would undertake development of key infrastructure projects under road, urban and tourism sectors.
The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, however, said the budgetary allocations for J&K for 2023-2024 had “failed” to cater to the needs of the trade, industry and commerce in the region.
Terming it as “flamboyance and wordplay,” NC spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said there was no hand-holding of artisans, marginal traders, transporters, hawkers and startups. The budget, he said, was the fifth budget in a row which wasn’t passed by the elected legislature of J&K.
“The exercise itself raises a question why an entire populace of nearly 1.50 crore people continues to remain without a representative Assembly. An elected Assembly could have discussed and ascertained the needs and aspirations of the people of J&K before tabling annual budgetary allocations and estimates. It is again for the fifth time that the stakeholders concerned were not consulted before the tabling of the budget,” he added.
Senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohamad Yousuf Tarigami also expressed disappointment on the budget stating that it had failed to address pressing issues like unemployment and inflation.
“The allocation for development is quite inadequate because there is a lot to be done to build our infrastructure as far as roads and building are concerned. The government has been claiming for years that their will be a big push for the development, but we have seen that there has not been much progress since 2019,” Tarigami told NewsClick.
Tarigami added that he visited Doda and Poonch areas recently and said there was need for strong impetus to bring these places on the map of development.
BJP chief spokesperson Sunil Sethi, at a press conference in Srinagar on Tuesday, hailed the government’s budget and also welcomed the plan of building two cold storages for apples in Sopore and Narwal.
“We are happy that the budget was presented for the Union territory and there is an increase of Rs 150 crore since the last budget. The projected growth rate is shown at 10% and the finance ministry has said that 35% of the allocation will be utilised for the infrastructure projects,” he said.
The general secretary of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) Faiz Bakshi told NewsClick that it is a “good budget.”
“It has included allocation for all key components and it also reflects that we are good tax payers. We would, however, also approach the finance ministry to consider the businesses under stress. We hope that banks would also be guided and advised to take a considerate view of the NPA’s (non-performing assets) due to the back to back problems faced since the 2014 floods,” he said. The KCCI general secretary welcomed the government’s push for the tourism sector adding that he hoped for similar drives in other key sectors.
Businessman and former KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq said traders in Kashmir expected special grants to help local businesses, including in the development of carpet weaving and handicraft.
“We have suggested many times the need for the establishment of model carpet villages and sought government’s support in its preservation. There is an immediate need to aid and safeguard the livelihood of grassroot earners,” he added.
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