Kerala Budget: Govt hikes excise duty on liquor, court fees, pitches for privatisation in key areas

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Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 5 (PTI) A cash-strapped Kerala government on Monday increased court fees and excise duty on liquor and pitched for public-private funding in key areas to raise funds for the implementation of various developmental projects in the state budget for the fiscal 2024-25.

Despite expectations, the government opted not to enhance social welfare pensions and also provided only a nominal increase of Rs 10 in the minimum support price for rubber -- a major cash crop of the state -- enhancing it to Rs 180 from Rs 170 earlier.

Finance Minister K N Balagopal tabled the fourth budget of the second Pinarayi Vijayan government without hiding the financial constraints it is facing, while attacking the Centre for the alleged neglect it shows towards the state.

Seeking to raise additional revenue, the budget proposed a hike of Rs 10 per litre in excise duty on Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) and an increase of 15 paise per unit in electricity duty for consumers who generate and consume energy for their own consumption.

The state hopes to generate additional revenue of Rs 224 crore through these measures, the FM said. However, he later clarified that the levying of gallonage fee on IMFL sale would not be passed on to consumers.

Finding other ways to raise the government's receipts, the FM said suitable amendments would be made to The Kerala Court Fees and Suits Valuation Act, 1959 whereby it would earn an additional Rs 50 crore.

Elaborating on further plans for raising funds, the finance minister said the state could bring in Rs 440 crore annually by revising stamp duty slabs for lease deeds, resuming sand removal in rivers across the state and disposing of unusable assets piled up in various government departments.

Indicating a clear policy diversion from the proclaimed anti-privatisation stand of the Left government, the budget pitched for tapping the possibility of private investments in many key sectors. Opportunities for establishing foreign university campuses will also be examined and steps will be taken to establish private universities as well, the FM said.

Permission would be given to set up 25 new private investment parks in the state in the coming year, he said, adding that private participation in developing local tourism centres would also be encouraged.

Special Development Zones will be created in partnership with the private sector by attracting investment from institutions and individuals including non-resident Keralites, he added.

For the smooth and time-bound execution of major projects such as Vizhinjam Port, Cochin Metro and Kannur Airport, a sum of Rs 300.73 crore has been earmarked.

Referring to the development of the Vizhinjam port, Balagopal said large-scale investments need to be channelled in to transform it into an entity capable of competing with other prominent ports around the world.

"This can be made possible only through a combination of public funding, public-private partnerships as well as private sector investment," he explained.

While the traditional agricultural sector received an allocation of Rs 1,698.30 crore in the budget, the cooperative sector, which has been mired in controversies recently, was given a share of Rs 134.42 crore.

"The tourism sector is growing. Allocating Rs 351 crore for it in fiscal 2024-25," the minister said, adding that investments worth Rs 5,000 crore would be attracted to the sector.

Other major allocations include: Life housing scheme (Rs 1,132 crore), IT (Rs 507.14 crore), Science, Technology and Environment (235.55 crore) and so on.

Although Kerala is facing an economic crunch and the Centre is "imposing financial restrictions on the state", Balgopal said the LDF government would not compromise on development, and promised to bring investments worth Rs three lakh crore to the state in the next three years.

He emphasised that "Kerala is on the cusp of becoming a 'sunrise' economy (one that shows prospects of a rapid boom). The sunrise sectors are defined by futuristic strides in technology, an exponential rise in demand and the resultant economic development." Attacking the Centre for the state's woes, Balagopal said Kerala cannot remain a mute spectator against the hostile approach of the union government, which is "pushing the state towards the worst financial crisis in its history".

"Instead, we should march forward with the strong sentiment of 'Thakarilla Keralam, Thalarilla Keralam, Thakarkkanavilla Keralathe (Kerala will not be shattered, Kerala will not tire, Kerala cannot be destroyed)'. PTI LGK HMP ANE