Kerala Budget: Rs 20,000 Crore Package to Tackle 2nd COVID Wave
Additionally, he has set aside Rs 1,000 crore for free distribution of vaccines for persons above 18 years of age.
A COVID-19 stimulus package worth Rs 20,000 crore to tackle the second wave of the pandemic has been announced in the revised budget presented by Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal on Friday, 4 June, for FY 2021-22. Other than that, he has set aside Rs 1,000 crore for free distribution of vaccines for persons above 18 years of age.
The former Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac had presented a budget in February, and with the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government returning to power in the state in May, the budget is largely a continuation of Isaac’s proposals.
The first two quarters of the previous fiscal have done serious damage to the state’s finances, according to the report for Kerala prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for 2020-21.
There has been a 60 percent increase in revenue deficit and fiscal deficit over the last financial year, and what is worrisome is that the state borrowed extensively in 2020.
COVID Care Packages
The budget emphasised on strengthening the health sector during the devastating second wave of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 stimulus package would include Rs 2,800 crore to tackle the health emergency situation, Rs 8,900 crore to be disbursed directly to people who have lost their jobs, and Rs 8,300 crore towards interest subsidy for loans to help rejuvenate the economy.
Other initiatives include introduction of isolation wards for contagious diseases at all community health centres, taluks, districts, and general hospitals and allocating separate blocks in medical college hospitals for combating contagious diseases, like COVID-19 and Nipah virus.
Anticipating a surge in the coming months, the state is also looking to increase the number of beds in paediatric ICUs and set up a liquid medical oxygen plant of 150 metric tonnes capacity.
The government has allocated five crore rupees as assistance for children who lost their parents to the deadly virus.
For the People’s Welfare
One of the key challenges that the state government needs to tackle is unemployment. No new tax proposals have been introduced, keeping in mind the loss of livelihoods during this time.
The livelihood package has been increased to Rs 100 crore, giving the state’s women empowerment mission, Kudumbashree, a massive boost.
In the next five years, all services from village offices will be made ‘smart’ set ups.
An amount of Rs 25 crore has been allocated for giving interest discounts in the Norka employment scheme for non-resident Keralites who have lost their jobs.
For persons belonging to the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe category, loans of Rs 10 lakh will be given to 100 entrepreneurs and Rs 1 lakh each to 1,500 youth artists.
Focus on Mental Well-Being of Children
An amount of Rs 10 crore has been earmarked for creating a common online teaching platform, incorporating technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality to make learning accessible to students.
The Vidyasree scheme of the Kerala State Financial Enterprises and the Kudumbashree will provide two lakh laptops to schoolchildren.
The state plans to constitute a committee of education, health, and social experts, who will study the growing mental stress on children and action plans will be drafted accordingly.
The state also plans to set up a permanent facility for telecounselling services for adults and children.
The state also plans to telecast programmes on yoga, exercises to enhance physical health and immunity, and art and craft shows, through VICTERS channel.
Tourism Circuits Coming Soon
In a bid to boost the economy, Balagopal set aside Rs 30 crore for rejuvenating existing tourism projects. He announced additional funds of Rs 50 crore for marketing for the tourism industry and Rs 5 crore for launching amphibious vehicles that move both on land and water.
Two new tourism circuits, called Malabar literary circuit and bio-diversity circuit, have been announced. The Malabar literary circuit will connect places associated with literary giants of the state, like Thunjath Ezhuthachan, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, O V Vijayan, and M T Vasudevan Nair. The bio-diversity circuit will connect places such as Ashtamudi Lake, Kottarakkara, Maruthimala, Jatayu statue and Munroe Thuruth in Kollam district.
Two new memorials dedicated to late political veterans KR Gouri Amma and Balakrishna Pillai will be built at the cost of Rs 2 crore each.
For a Greener State
Balagopal’s budget also has several provisions for environmental issues.
He announced a comprehensive package to contain the effects of floods through better systems like "room for river" as implemented in the Netherlands and eco-friendly construction. The first phase of the project will receive an allocation of Rs 50 crore with an estimated expenditure of Rs 500 crore. The project will involve water resources, environment, and local self government departments.
In order to reduce carbon footprint, 3,000 diesel buses belonging to the KSRTC will be altered to run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).
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