BIGGER THE BETTER
Fadnavis’s last budget focuses on irrigation, the lower middle class and national pride
When Maharashtra finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar rose to present his fifth budget on June 18, the government was upbeat. The political situation in the state seems favourable for the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. If the Lok Sabha election outcome is any indication, the alliance is leading in 232 (BJP 128, Shiv Sena 104) of the 288 assembly segments (145 seats would give it a simple majority).
In its final budget for 2019-20, the government is not taking any risks though. Even with a revenue deficit of Rs 20,292 crore, it’s a please all budget with farmers, widows, traders, the unemployed youth, the physically handicapped
community and, of course, the BJP’s core nationalist voters, all taken care of.
Water conservation and irrigation facilities have been a big focus with Rs 6,410 crore allotted for artificial cloud seeding to increase rainfall (the state is facing a fourth consecutive drought year). And while Rs 12,597 crore has been set aside for irrigation through the piped network, another Rs 600 crore has been given to set up new agriculture colleges and agri research.
With 600-odd farmers committing suicide in the past three months, the insurance scheme for the community has widened its scope. Earlier, only the farmer was entitled to insurance benefits, now the whole family has been brought under the scheme’s ambit.
Other big schemes target the lower middle classes. They include increased aid for the state’s 3.2 million unemployed widows (Rs 1,000 a month); Rs 7,197 crore for the construction of homes for the divyang (physically challenged); and a programme to start 10,000 small industries which prioritises women and SC/ ST entrepreneurs.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is also going all out to mollify the Dhangar community, which has been agitating for Scheduled Tribe status (one of his government’s early promises). Now Fadnavis is hoping the Rs 1,000 crore in the budget for 23 welfare schemes for the community will reduce some of their ire. The Dhangar vote is crucial in at least 16 assembly constituencies.
The state government is also going on a memorial-building spree, with its core Hindutva voters in mind. So a Bal Gangadhar Tilak statue is coming up at the new Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi, a grand memorial to the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee is planned in Mumbai. It is also constructing memorials to tribal freedom fighters in different places keeping in mind the 25 assembly seats where the community could decide the poll outcome.
Meanwhile, from the opposition, state Congress president Ashok Chavan criticised the revenue deficit, calling it poor planning by the government. He argued that the BJP had called the Congress-NCP scamsters for giving revised administrative approvals to irrigation projects. “They have given the same approvals to 260 irrigation projects. Should we call them corrupt now?” Chavan asks.
FULL COVER CM Fadnavis at the Vidhan Bhavan, Mumbai, Jun. 19