Kerala Finance Minister Dr. T. M. Thomas Isaac has presented a feel good Budget (2009-10) to the Assembly. Whether the pleasantness would remain depends on his ability to carry out the proposals. The Minister, who has failed to carry out almost half of current year’s Budget proposals, has admitted that the “proof of the pudding is in eating”.
It is indeed an election year (Lok Sabha) Budget. But the Minister has made an honest attempt to address the problems arising from world-wide recession which is arriving in Kerala. His stimulus packages would take time to implement. To some extent, they are repacks of schemes that get announced every year.
The Minister has achieved a 23 per cent increase in tax revenues which is remarkable in a year marked with economic slow down. The introduction of value added tax system and the anti-corruption drive and measures to prevent tax evasion helped.
However, the buoyancy in tax receipts may not be easy to keep in the coming year. So, the Minister has resorted to a sleight of hand to keep down expenditure. He has advanced retirement dates of government employees to the end of year. This means that all gratuity, commutation and other benefits, payable on retirement, could be delayed by one year. Around half of the government employees would get their service life extended by, on average, six months. Employees should be feeling happy in an election year.
Not to antagonise the youth, the Minister has said that appointments to vacancies arising from retirement would be filled in advance. This does not mean much as recruitment process always gets delayed. The Minister is not surely going to entertain a surplus of employees.
One of the really notable measures taken by the Minister is the decision to increase rent on Government land leased to plantations. This was a measure that was hanging fire for 28 years. Previous finance ministers including Oommen Chandy had shied away from increasing the rent. There were also allegations of corruption as plantations continued to pay only a pittance for leased land.
Dr. Isaac is also making a big plunge for energy efficiency by promoting CFL lamps and reducing tax on light emitting diode (LED) lamps. This was something that the Electricity Ministers from the time of Pinarai Vijayan had failed to do so though the advantages of energy efficiency over adding capacity was well known for more than a decade.