The new Finance Minister's Budget presentation in the Kerala Assembly was filled with political comments, said Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan. The Budget was only a revision of the former Left Democratic Front (LDF) government's Budget presented by the then Finance Minister Thomas Isaac in January 2021. His successor KN Balagopalan spoke about the continuity of the LDF rule as they got voted to power again this year, before talking about the various allocations added to the Budget in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
"What should have been said in the policy speech (of the Governor) was said in the Budget and vice-versa. Now policy and Budget speeches are also political speeches. A speech that should have been made at the Putharikandam Maidanam (a public ground) was said through the Budget. The Budget is an annual financial statement. But this speech was filled with politics in a way that destroyed its sanctity," Satheesan said at a press conference after the Budget.
"The estimate declares an additional expenditure of Rs 1,715 crore. But is the Rs 20,000 crore stimulus package announced for COVID-19 not an additional expenditure? It was in the Budget speech but not in the estimate. They should add this to the additional expenditure and say it is Rs 21,715 crore. They should also add it to the revenue deficit which is now mentioned as Rs 16,910 crore," Satheesan said.
In his Budget speech, Balagopal said that the government had spent double the amount of the Rs 20,000 crore package for COVID-19, declared last year for the pandemic. "A second COVID-19 package of Rs 20,000 crore is announced to face the socio-economic and health challenges that are emerging in the backdrop of the second wave," he said. He added that Rs 8,900 crore from this package would be used for disbursing money directly to those in crisis due to the loss of livelihood as a result of the pandemic.
Satheesan had at first said that the opposition welcomed this move to directly give money to the lowest rung of the society who suffered the most during COVID-19. But when it was pointed out that it would be used for providing welfare pensions, he dubbed it cheating. "We had suggested during the policy presentation that the people who struggled the most should be directly given money. We thought that was what this is. But if it is for pension, it is cheating people. It is anyway the responsibility of the government to give pensions. It should not be part of a stimulus package."
However the opposition welcomed the move to allocate money to prepare the state for a third wave of COVID-19, as they had suggested earlier. "We also agreed to the government's move of taking Rs 3 crore from the MLA Asset Development Fund," he said. Satheesan further criticised the Budget for not including the Rs 5 crore that former Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had said was left behind.
Watch: VD Satheesan's reaction to the budget speech