Mumbai: As Maharashtra government struggles with finances, the state finance minister Ajit Pawar tabled the budget for 2021-22 on Monday. He tried to portray a good picture but in reality, the budget exhibits a mixed picture, especially with regard to pending schemes.
For instance, the state government had announced the building of a coastal way in its 2020-21 budget. This year, it increased the allocation to the project from Rs 3,500 crore to Rs 9,000 crore, but there has not been any progress yet in either the alignment or acquisition of land.
This is one of the many examples in the Maharashtra budget 2021-22, which has presents a bagful of old projects.
In his budget, Pawar said his government had focused on building the healthcare system. "Modernisation of health is the focus this year. We will upgrade the healthcare system of state-owned hospitals from tehsil level. Rs 7,500 crore have been kept for the upgradation," he said.
Agriculture was one sector that help in the recovery of the state’s economy this year, as industrial output has gone into the negative zone and the services sector faced suffered heavily due the pandemic-induced lockdown. Agriculture registered 11% growth. Hence, Pawar announced a number of schemes, mainly extension of schemes announced earlier, for farmers.
"If farmers repay their loans by this financial year- end, they will be eligible to get Rs 3 lakh as loan without interest," said the finance minister.
Pawar also announced the government’s full support to farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders against the three farm laws. "The MVA (Maharashtra Vikas Agadhi) goverment is with them. We will not implement the laws. We will strengthen APMCs here in state," he said.
Welcoming the budget, senior journalist and expert on agriculture, Maruti Kandale, said: "In the backdrop of corona and the slowdown, the budget has given serious attention to agriculture. For example, the scheme for electricity pump for farmers is a welcome initiative. If micro- irrigation projects get completed, then it will be a boost for smaller farmers."
However, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) termed the budget as a “betrayal of farmers”.
"This budget does not touch the core issues of farmers. They want MSPs, easy loans. There is nothing on this line. There is a failed insurance scheme. How will the state government improve it? There is no word on it. The finance minister also did not utter a word on demand of polyhouse owners, small food processing units of farmers. So, this budget fails to give justice to farmers," said Ajit Navale of AIKS.
A number of announcements have also been made on infrastructure building. In this, Virar- Alibaug corridor, Nanded- Aurangabad highway, Nasik-Pune railway line are among some of the ambitious projects. Irrigation projects have also been given Rs 12,000 crore. "A total 286 projects are pending in the state. We are planning to complete all those by December 2023," Pawar said.
"The current deficit is Rs 70,000 crore and if Centre doesn’t clear Rs 30,000 crore from GST on time then the deficit will go on Rs 1 lakh crore. In such a condition, we are managing our finances. I have tried to keep deficit at Rs 10,000 crore. It is a tough task," Pawar added.
However, Milind Ranade, a labour union leader said the budget was “a big zero” for workers. "The most affected section in corona is unorganised labour. There is not a single word for them. This shows the insensitivity of the MVA government. There is a scheme for only sugar cane cutting labour. But there are so many industrial workers, like naka kamgar and others. This budget has completely ignored their existence," said Ranade.
The budget has given Rs 8,200 cr for the urban development department. Maharashtra will soon see 27 municipalities, including Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nasik and 350 municipal council elections. So, the budget for UD is being seen as an attempt to win urban voters. A few mega projects, such as Thane Dombivli Kalyan road, MMRDA roads, Pune circle metro, Nagpur metro extension have been announced.
Mayuresh Bhadsawale, a young urban planner, said the state should focus on completing the projects at the earliest. "Incomplete projects for longer time has become a serious problem for urban citizens. The government should focus on completing the projects at the earliest," he said.
The Opposition has termed the budget a 'directionless document'.
"MVA has cheated people by putting old schemes back in budget. On the other side, it has not addressed the serious issues of farmers and labourers. There is zero provision for farmers facing natural calamities in Vidharbha. Also, the government has not given any relief to middle class families who are suffering due to inflated electricity bills," said Bharatiya Janata Party’s Devendra Fadnavis, the Opposition leader in the Assembly.
Citing resource constraints, the finance minister also expressed his inability to cut taxes on petrol and diesel. "The state has less financial resources after GST. Petrol and diesel taxes are a major resource as stamp duty or excise duty. It is the Central government that has so many ways to get money. So, they should cut the taxes," said Pawar.
Ajit Joshi, expert on economic issues, said the budget could have been more innovative this time.
"Expenditure on health sectors is a good initiative. But, there is lack of imagination in this budget. Spending more on the informal sector, on labour, on smaller units of manufacturing could have generated more money in the market. There should have been a vision for small and medium-scale industries. I don't see that. A state like Maharashtra should have a more inclusive budget," said Joshi said.