BASED ON the concept of “panchaamrut” — or women, farmers, youth, employment and environment – the Maharashtra budget presented on Thursday was in many ways a replication of the Centre’s model.
The overall design was to generate a “feel good” factor, with politics overpowering the economy ahead of elections next year. So, in the first Budget of the Shinde Sena-BJP government, Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Devendra Fadnavis avoided any bold reforms or decisions that would have meant fiscal prudence, but also fewer sops.
For women, the Budget announced exemption of professional tax for those earning up to Rs 25,000 per month (up from Rs 10,000), plus 1 per cent concession on stamp duty on purchase of residential units. The government perhaps wants to get around the fact that it does not have a single woman minister.
At 4.16 crore voters (against 4.58 male), women make a sizeable number in Maharashtra. The state had earlier taken the lead in providing 33 per cent reservation to women in local bodies, way back in 1993-94.
For the farmers, the government promised Rs 6,000 per family per year, setting aside Rs 6,900 crore in the Budget. This is over and above the Rs 6,000 per family given by the Centre. The government also promised to pay a 2 per cent premium on their behalf for the PM crop insurance scheme, allocating Rs 3,300 crore for this.
The total farmer families in the state are estimated to be 1.56 crore, of whom 78 per cent are small and marginal farmers. With rural areas making up more than half of Maharashtra, sops for farmers might be a factor in 125 Assembly segments of the 288 in Assembly.
The government’s move is timely to check unrest among farmers — lately there have been protests over falling onion prices – as well as losses anticipated due to a poor monsoon under the El Nino effect.
Former agriculture minister Anil Bonde of the BJP said: “When crops get destroyed or fail to get high remuneration, it leaves farmers devastated. With Rs 12,000 annual assured amount in their accounts, their hardships will be addressed.”
In another measure, the government will be launching Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan 2.0, in drought-prone districts. In the first phase, 25,000 villages had been covered. The CAG report said Rs 9,633 crore had been spent on 6.41 lakh works across 22,586 villages.
Fadnavis accused the Maha Vikas Aghadi government of discontinuing the programme and said they were taking it up on a priority basis.
“Drought mitigation and eradicating water reliance in Maharashtra cannot be compromised on.” Access to water to enable farmers to reap two crops a year is part of the government mission to improve farmers’ lives.
An additional Rs 29,163 crore has been set aside in the Budget for various welfare measures in the agriculture sector.
The Budget, which at Rs 6.02 lakh crore was higher by Rs 20,740 crore over revised estimates for 2022-23, also targeted specific communities such as the Dhangars, Lingayats, Wadars and Banjaras. Development corporations will be constituted for each community with the basic allocation of Rs 50 crore.
The Dhangars (a shepherd community) had stood by the BJP in the last two Assembly elections – 2014 and 2019 – yielding it rich political dividends, especially in key constituencies in Western Maharashtra.
Earlier, the community which has a 9 per cent vote share, was promised reservation in the Scheduled Tribe category by the Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena government. At present, it gets reservations under Denotified Tribes. However, the state government has avoided going there, citing legal complications.
Instead, it has promised Rs 1,000 crore of welfare schemes for the uplift of the Dhangars in education and jobs.
The Lingayats, who are socially and economically prosperous, on the other hand, want a separate religious minorities tag. Apart from gains in Maharashtra, the BJP clearly hopes that the promise of a separate corporation would do the trick to keep the Lingayats in the BJP fold in neighbouring Karnataka too.
Similarly, wader (stone-cutters) also found a mention in the Budget, while the Banjara nomadic tribe has been on the BJP’s list for some time. Its main pitch is that the tribe, also found in large numbers in poll-bound Telangana, are part of the larger Hindu umbrella and should not come “under the influence of Christianity”. The state government has promised roads and connectivity across all Banjara tandas (colonies) in Maharashtra.