Eyeing to develop as ‘green state’, Himachal budget focuses on rural economy, job creation
By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, March 17 In the first budget after the election, the Congress government in Himachal Pradesh led by Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu on Friday presented a budget of Rs 53,413 crore for 2023-24 with the focus on tapping renewable energy, strengthening state’s mainstay agriculture and horticulture sectors, women’s empowerment and, with a promise to create 90,000 jobs.
In the populist but deficit budget, Thakur, who holds the finance portfolio, announced no new taxes. “This is the first-of-its-kind state’s ‘green budget’. Steps would be taken to develop the state as ‘Green Energy State’ by March 2026,” he said in his over two hours of speech in Hindi.
Before laying the paperless Budget, the Chief Minister reached the Vidhan Sabha, earlier known as Council Chamber that was opened by Lord Reading on August 27, 1925, in an electric car.
Setting a new trend of explaining within the speech in detail how the budgetary provision is going to be beneficial towards a motto of the ‘good government with good governance’, Thakur made the speech alive by including poetic verses, and quotes from famous Hindi writers.
The Finance Minister even missed no opportunity to take a dig at the Opposition through his poetry, winning applause.
Expressing concern over the precarious fiscal health of the hill state, he said, “We have inherited a huge debt and a liability of about Rs 10,000 crore on account of arrears of salaries of employees and pensioners and dearness allowance from the previous government.
“Policies of the previous government have resulted in a debt of Rs 92,833 on every person of Himachal Pradesh. The state’s budgetary resources have been adversely affected due to discontinuation of GST compensation after June, 2022.
“This will adversely affect the financial position of the state in the coming years. Revenue Deficit Grant (RDG) from the Central government will reduce from Rs 9,377 crore in 2022-23 to Rs 3,257 crore in 2025-26.
“Notwithstanding these challenges, the pace of development of the state will not be allowed to be adversely affected.”
Assuring the people of the state that the government will work with full dedication to implement development policies as enunciated in the Congress election manifesto, he said it would be considered as a policy document for state’s development.
The people of the state have expressed full confidence in the election manifesto of the Congress and “we are determined to honour all the guarantees”.
Talking about the party’s poll promise, Thakur said the government has announced to restore the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) immediately after it assumed office.
“About 1.36 lakh employees will be benefited with this decision. The Cabinet has already passed a resolution to impress upon the government of India to return the NPS (National Pension Scheme) amount of about Rs 8,000 crore deposited with it.”
Estimating state’s growth rate of 6.4 per cent, per capita income Rs 2,22,227 with a growth rate of 10.4 per cent over the previous year and state’s GDP to be Rs 1,95,404 crore in 2022-23, a confidant Chief Minister said effective steps would be taken to develop the state as a aGreen Energy State’ by March 31, 2026.
“Measures will be taken for exploitation of solar energy, in addition to hydropower to meet this objective. A target of starting new solar energy projects with a capacity of 500 MW has been set in 2023-24.
“Two panchayats in each district will be developed as green panchayats on a pilot basis. Solar power projects with capacity ranging from 500 KW to 1 MW capacity will be set up in these panchayats. A solar power-based battery energy storage system project will be set up in Pangi to strengthen its power supply system.”
He announced that the youth would be given 40 per cent subsidy to set up solar power projects for capacity ranging from 250 KW to 2 MW on their own or leased land.
“Electricity generated from these projects will be purchased by the state electricity board. With an objective to make Himachal a ‘Green State’, our government has also decided that Himachal Pradesh will be developed as a ‘Model State for Electric Vehicles’.
“Use of electric vehicles will be encouraged in a phased manner to reduce carbon emissions, with the collaboration of private and public sectors. In the first phased, national and state highways would be developed as Green Corridor for electric vehicles.
With the promise to promote green hydrogen, the Chief Minister said emphasis would be on replacing maximum diesel buses of the Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) with e-buses in the coming years.
As per the revised estimates for 2022-23, he said, the total revenue receipts are Rs 38,945 crore.
According to the revised estimates of 2022-23, the total revenue expenditure is estimated to be Rs 45,115 crore.
Similarly, as per the revised estimates for 2022-23, the revenue deficit is estimated to be Rs 6,170 crore.
In 2023-24, the revenue receipts are estimated to be Rs 37,999 crore and the total revenue expenditure Rs 42,704 crore. “Thus, the total revenue deficit is estimated to be Rs 4,704 crore. Fiscal deficit is estimated to be Rs 9,900 crore which is 4.61 per cent of the Gross State Domestic Product,” he explained.
“Out of every Rs 100 spent, Rs 26 will be spent on salary, Rs 16 on pension, Rs 10 on interest payment, Rs 10 on loan repayment, Rs 9 on grant to autonomous institutions, while the balance Rs 29 will be spent on other activities, including capital works.”
The budget made provision to increase the daily wage of MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) workers by Rs 28 that will benefit nine lakh workers. “Additionally, Rs 100 crore on account of this will be borne by the state government,” he said.
The Chief Minister promised concrete steps to stop drug trafficking and to arrest criminals. “Illegal property earned through drug trafficking will be confiscated.”
A cess of Rs 10 per bottle will be imposed on liquor sold in the state, which will fetch Rs 100 crore annually. He said the levy would be used to increase income of milk producers through increased milk production.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)