Bengaluru. In his pre-assembly election budget for 2018-19, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Feb. 16 announced schemes for universal health coverage, providing free LPG gas connections and mitigating the miseries of dry land farmers.

The chief minister said the implementation of the sixth pay commission for 5.93 lakh state government employees and 5.73 lakh pensioners would cost Rs 10,508 crore to the exchequer.

The commission has recommended a 30-per cent hike in the salary structure and with increase in pay and other steps to increase productivity and efficiency, the government would be in a better position to implement welfare measures, he said. Siddaramaiah, who holds the finance portfolio, announced a scheme to waive loans of up to Rs one lakh taken by a farmer member from a primary agricultural credit cooperative society on his death.

No fresh levies were announced in the Budget, which proposed an increase in the rates of additional excise duty on Indian-Made Liquor by eight per cent, depending on the slabs.

The ‘Arogya Karnataka Yojana’ (universal health coverage), to be launched this month, would be implemented across the state by the end of this year. The scheme will make available primary, and specific secondary and tertiary treatments to all people. Over 9,000 health and wellness centres would be set up by upgrading existing sub-centres for every 5,000 population in rural areas during the next seven years to provide high quality comprehensive primary health care services, he said.

A total budgetary allocation of Rs 6,645 crore has been made for the health and family welfare department. The announcement comes close on the heels of what was touted as the world’s largest public health scheme to cover 10 crore families unveiled in the Union Budget. In an apparent move to counter the Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Scheme, Siddaramaiah announced that under the ‘Mukhyamantri Anila Bhagya Yojana’, a free gas connection with twin burner stove and two refills would be provided to 30 lakh beneficiaries with an expenditure of Rs 1,350 crore.

The scheme comes against the backdrop of sharp differences between the Siddaramaiah government and the Centre over the implementation of Ujjwala scheme. Siddaramaiah also unveiled ‘Raitha Belaku’, a scheme to give direct income assistance to mitigate miseries of dry land farmers. Under the scheme, Rs 5,000 per hectare, subject to a maximum of Rs 10,000 would be provided to each farmer growing rain-fed crops with money transferred directly to farmers’ bank accounts. It entails expenditure of Rs 3,500 crore every year and around 70 lakh farmers would be benefited. On GST, Siddaramaiah said that due to implementation problems in the initial months, systematic analysis of data and rigorous enforcement activities could not be undertaken. However, implementation of the Karnataka model of e-way bill in the entire country is expected to bring about a qualitative change in tax compliance and streamline GST collection across the country.

Asserting that the state government was committed to the comprehensive development of Bengaluru, Siddaramaiah said that necessary action would be taken to prepare a project report for the 105.55-km line under the Bengaluru Metro Phase-3. With this, the total length of the Bengaluru metro rail, including all phases, would be 266 km. To manage goods and passenger transport more efficiently and quickly, and to reduce density of road traffic, a feasibility study would be undertaken for implementation of “Roll-on and Roll-off” multi-modal logistic park and sea plane services under PPP mode, he said. With elections due early this year, Siddaramaiah sought vote-on account up to July 31, 2018. Stressing his government’s focus on welfare schemes, he said: “Today, there is no situation in the state where any person goes to bed with hunger,” and described his government as “farmer-friendly”.

“I am not an expert who has made a scholarly study of economics. There is no knowledge greater than experience,” said Siddaramaiah,

His leadership is being projected by the Congress for the coming assembly polls, where he is facing a fierce fight from the BJP, which is raring to return to power.

The state budget is his record 13th in more than 35 years of his political career, and sixth in a row as chief minister.

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