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Punjab promises tax-free Budget
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 8
With the elections to the state Assembly less than a year away, the incumbent Congress government will present its last Budget on March 3, which it has promised will be ďtax freeĒ.

For the ruling party it will be the last major opportunity to redress grievances of various sections of society in an endeavour to win their confidence for a second term in office.

If statements made by the Finance Minister, Mr Surinder Singla, during the past few days are any indication, some of the major demands of employees, including the setting up of the state Pay Commission, besides the filling of vacant posts in various departments, the abolition of octroi, further amendments to the Value Added Tax (VAT) Act and welfare schemes for Dalits, women and weaker sections may be the thrust areas of his budgetary proposals.

Some of these issues, including the amendments to the VAT Act and the abolition of octroi, were highlighted by various speakers representing different organisations of traders, businessmen and industrialists at a rally organised by the Shiromani Akali Dal in Bathinda last Sunday.

Infrastructure development, strengthening of the educational and healthcare systems and improving sanitation and drinking water supply besides continued thrust on crop diversification may be other areas to get special attention from the present regime.

Various organisations of farmers have been agitating over a number of issues, including clearance of their arrears for the supply of sugarcane, release of bonus on the paddy crop of 2002 and amendments to the Cooperatives Act on the repayment of loans. The government may have no choice but to address these issues also in the coming Budget.

The call for private sector involvement in the delivery of services in key areas like education and healthcare given during the last Budget will be another area which will be seen with considerable interest. The unbundling of the Punjab State Electricity Board is another contentious issue which the government may not be able to skip in its last Budget of the current term.

Increased financial assistance from the Centre, including some favourable recommendations of the Finance Commission which ensure special grants for revenue deficit states, and improved fiscal health are areas on which the government will claim credit.

The Budget session, the 11th of the current Vidhan Sabha, starts on February 20 with the Governorís Address. After dedicating February 21 for obituary references, a discussion on the Motion of Thanks to the Governorís Address will start on February 22. After a day of non-official business, the discussion on the Governorís Address will resume on February 24 before the House breaks for holidays on February 25 and 26.

The discussion on the Governorís Address will continue on February 27 and 28 and the government will present supplementary demands and the Appropriation Bill on March 1. Separated by non-official business on March 2, the Budget will be presented on March 3 before the House breaks again for holidays on March 4 and 5.

The discussion on the Budgetary proposals will continue on March 6, 7 and 8.

In legislative business, the government plans to introduce new Bills on regulating the fees of medical and dental colleges and check the growing menace of drugs in the state.

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