With an eye on the panchayat polls, state government today announced a slew of social welfare schemes and sops in the state budget for 2018-19.

Finance minister Amit Mitra presented the Rs 214,958.75 crore budget in the state Assembly with a focus on the rural populace particularly the farmers, the low and middle income groups and women.

In his 15-minute budget speech, Mr Mitra proposed no new taxes or increased the existing tax rates but annouced special corpus funds for preventing distress sale of farmers, the specially challenged and the poor bride’s families for marriage of their girls.

He announced a one per cent cut in the stamp duty on purchase of flats or homestead land ranging between Rs 40 lakh to one crore, providing the much needed relief to the housing sector. In urban areas, the stamp duty will be reduced from seven to six per cent while in rural areas it will be reduced from six to five per cent. However, the budget failed to lay down any plan to get the state out of the financial mess.

Bengal’s own tax revenue was about Rs 56000 crore in 2017-18, but it has to cough up Rs 52,000 crore to service outstanding debt, and another Rs 50,000 crore on salaries, pensions and subsidies. The state economy is facing a near Rs 3 lakh crore debt burden.

Mr Mitra announced a Rs 100 crore corpus fund to stop distress sale and said: “With the excessive agricultural productions, the prices of agro commodities fall and farmers have no alternative but to sell their produce at lower prices.

They face a financial crunch. To avoid the distress sale and ensure proper prices for farmers’ produce, chief minister has proposed the special fund”. Mitra said the agro economy depends on the cash driven transactions due to “lack of banking services in the rural areas” and it was “badly affected due to the Centre’s demonetisation move”.

The government also increased the monthly pension of farmers from Rs 750 to Rs 1000 and increased the number of beneficiaries from 66,000 to one lakh.
This means that an additional 34,000 farmers would be able to avail pension. Next, announcement was made on waiving agriculture tax for tea industry for the next two fiscal. The tea industry has been exempted from paying education cess and rural employment cess.