Thiruvananthapuram: The CPM-led LDF government in Kerala Friday presented a tax-free budget for the year 2017-18, focusing on infrastructure development with a total outlay of Rs 35,000 crore.
Besides giving a thrust for infrastructure, social security and steps to bridge the digital divide gap, initiatives for women's safety were some highlights of the budget that showed a total revenue of Rs 93,584.74 crore for the year 2017-18.
The budget proposed to provide 20 lakh free Internet connections to as many poor families and Internet services at a lower rate for the others.
The Internet facility would be made available through a new optic fiber pathway named 'K-FON' within 18 months with a total capital investment of Rs 1,000 crore.
In a major initiative, an amount of Rs 16,000 crore has been earmarked for an ambitious housing project with an aim to provide houses to all homeless people in the next five years.
The Budget proposed to provide houses to one lakh homeless families in the next one year.
In tune with the ruling CPM-led LDF's election manifesto, the Budget unveiled different schemes for improving basic amenities at public schools in Kerala.
A total of Rs 900 crore was earmarked for ration subsidy and Rs 700 crore for paddy procurement and Rs 450 crore was set apart for open market intervention to check price rise.
As part of comprehensive social security measures, the Budget raised the amount of all welfare pensions to Rs 1,100.
In a bid to tap NRI investments, Isaac said Kerala State Financial Enterprises will come out with 'Pravasi(NRI) Chitty' through bonds. The amount would be utilised to build coastal and high-range highways with Rs 10,000 crore total outlay.
On the key role played by the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board, he said projects worth Rs 15,000 crore would be finalized by it by the end of this fiscal year.
"Besides this, projects worth Rs 20,000 crore also would be announced by KIIFB in 2017-18, resulting in the highest investment project in the history of Kerala", Isaac said.
He said Kerala was fully ready to implement GST, which was "advantageous" to the state.
"The state GST law would be passed in the assembly session to be convened next month for passing the budget and the demand for grants," he said.
While giving details of the economic slowdown, felt tax revenue would remain below 15 percent than the expected 20 percent due to demonetization of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes.
The budget did not propose any new resource mobilization schemes, but announced concessions for traders to settle tax arrears.
Seeking to encourage 'Akshay Urja Scheme' which promotes utilization of renewable energy, the budget fixed the tax rate for installation of solar devices at one per cent, the finance minister said.
He said capital investment through KIIFB has been considerably enhanced and hoped introduction of GST would help reduce revenue deficit from next year.
Giving thrust to women's safety, the budget set apart Rs 68 crore for various schemes to prevent atrocities against them, besides proposing a public register of sexual offenders.
While announcing the measures in the budget presented in the assembly, Isaac said, "Atrocities against women are a disgrace to the Malayali community."
Women's safety came under scanner yet again when a Malayalam actress was harassed for two hours inside her car after the accused forced their way into the vehicle in Kochi recently.
Isaac said Rs 68 crore has been provided for different schemes to prevent atrocities against women and focus on their rehabilitation. This includes Rs 12 crore for 'Pink Control Room' and self-defence training and Rs 34 crore for awareness campaigns.
Besides, Rs 19.5 crore will be allocated for shelter homes, short stay homes and 'one-stop crisis center' and Rs three crore for two SOS model homes.
A women's police battalion, women police stations at taluk-level, panchayat-level visits of women police officers, public register for sexual offenders are the other pro-women initiatives in the budget.
However, Kerala assembly witnessed uproarious scenes during Budget presentation with the Congress-led opposition staging a walk out alleging leakage of the document in the social media.
Trouble started as the nearly three-hour-long budget presentation reached its final stages, when opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala stood up and waved a set of papers alleging that the budget proposal was already available in social media even before being presented.
Taken aback by the sudden development chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said budget details have not been leaked. But he assured the opposition that their charge would be looked into.