Thiruvananthapuram: A Rs 20,000 crore Covid package, liquid medical oxygen plant of 150 metric tonnes capacity, Rs 1,000 crore towards Covid vaccines and no new taxes were some of the big announcements in the revised budget presented by Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal today.
The Minister began his speech by saluting the people of Kerala for the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF’s “historic win” – bucking a four-decade trend by winning consecutive terms – and also took a political dig at the rival parties.
“We did not allow the culture of legislators being bought, made to stay in tourist place, to enter Kerala… The government was re-elected not by silencing the Opposition and media,” KN Balagopal said, in an apparent reference to “resort politics”, where MLAs are packed off and housed together to stave off alleged poaching by the rivals.
Opposition Leader VD Satheesan, welcoming the COVID-19 package of Rs 20,000 crore, said, “With the political comments included in the policy statement as well as budget speech, this has been turned into a political stunt.”
“Budget is the estimate for the coming year. There is already a budget and this is a revised budget. There is a column of additional expenses. That additional expenses is only for Rs 1,715 crore. Where is the 20,000 crores,” Mr Satheesan added.
A significant portion of the revised budget focuses on health and medical capacity building amid the Covid pandemic.
Allocations have been made in the budget for constructing separate isolation wards to treat airborne diseases, like, Covid, Ebola; to set up pediatric ICUs in multiple hospitals in every district.
“Oxygen supply has been necessary for treatment of critically-ill Covid patients. For this oxygen plant of 150 metric tonnes liquid medical oxygen will be set up. A 1,000 metric tonnes capacity tank as well as tankers for emergency transportation will be made available. Rs 25 lakh has been allocated for the initial stage of project. We are expecting to begin tender process by September 14,” KN Balagopal said.
The Minister faulted the centre for not providing free vaccines for those in the age group 18-44.
“The centre has given up on its responsibility of providing free vaccines to people above the age of 18, but the state can’t,” Mr Balagopal said.
The budget has not announced any new taxes as the minister noted that large sections of people were reeling under the effect of the pandemic.
Over 14.3 lakh non-resident Keralites have returned to the state and many have lost jobs. Low interest loans of up to Rs 1,000 crore have been assured.
On the tourism front, the Minister has announced additional funds of Rs 50 crore. Two new tourism circuits – Malabar literary circuit and bio-diversity circuit in Kollam – have been announced.
The budget has also set aside a total of Rs 2 crore each for memorials of two prominent politicians: KR Gowriamma, the longest surviving minister from the first Communist government in Kerala, and R Balakrishna Pillai, another veteran politician and Congress (B) chairman.
Rs 50 lakh has also been allocated for Reverend Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom chair. The Reverend was one of India’s well-known religious leaders and the oldest serving Bishop remembered for his many efforts to lessen human suffering.