GUWAHATI, Feb 7 - Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma today presented a Rs 2,349.79-crore deficit budget in the State Assembly for the financial year 2017-18, without levying any new tax. However, he proposed exemption of luxury tax to boost tourism and 50 per cent exemption of entertainment tax on multiplexes and cinema halls for screening Assamese and regional language films. The government has also proposed to create a price stabilisation fund to check price rise.
He also proposed reduction of cess on green tea leaf for small tea growers.
In his budget speech, the Finance Minister revealed that the total receipts of the State for the year 2017-18 will be Rs 2,47,412.67 crore against the expenditure of Rs 2,47,779.86 crore, resulting in a deficit of Rs 367.19 crore. However, with an opening deficit of Rs 1,982.60 crore the financial year will end with a deficit of Rs 2,349.79 crore.
Sarma said that instead of putting additional burden on the people in the budget, the government has tried to give some relief to certain sectors to stimulate growth of tourism, entertainment, etc. Stressing the need for giving a boost to the tourism sector, the government has already launched a programme to encourage home-stays, particularly in the rural areas and in the budget he proposed exemption of luxury tax in respect of hotels, lodging houses and home-stays, providing residential accommodation in rural areas.
The minister admitted that there is a general criticism that modern cinema halls like multiplexes are not keen on screening Assamese and regional films. In order to encourage exhibition of local films, he proposed to grant 50 per cent entertainment tax exemption for a period of three years, to permanent multiplexes, provided they give a written undertaking to the effect that they will show Assamese and other regional films in one of the screens if such films are available for screening at a particular point of time.
To recognise the contribution of small tea growers to the economy of Assam, he proposed to reduce the cess on green tea leaf to 10 paise per kg. He also proposed to exempt the women�s self-help groups from stamp duty for documentation related to bank loan up to Rs 2.5 lakh for the coming financial year.
Sarma admitted that price rise affects most of the poor and disadvantaged and �we often see spike in prices of essentials and hoarding of commodities by the greedy traders.� The government aims to strengthen the hands of the Food and Civil Supply Department by providing a price stabilisation fund and a provision of Rs 150 crore has been made in the budget. The operational guidelines will be issued soon.
In his budget speech, Sarma asserted that the government is not keen to impose additional tax burden on people unless it is really required to meet the �sovereign and developmental duties.� With current level of policy reforms coupled with strict monitoring, the government is confident that the revenue growth rate will improve further in the coming financial year.
Sarma said that the series of measures taken by the government to improve tax collection has started yielding the desired results and within the last few months the tax collection on areas like transport, excise, mines and minerals, taxation, etc., has showed remarkable improvement. In fact, revenue collection as on December 2016 recorded 16.10 per cent growth (without arrear) from the corresponding period of the previous year and the growth is 33.25 per cent with arrears.
He proposed some new measures to further improve revenue collection which include amendment of the Assam VAT Act, online issuance of statutory forms, etc. The entry tax cases pending in the Supreme Court were effectively handled and concluded in favour of the State which resulted in an additional revenue collection of more than Rs 400 crore.
He also proposed improving efficiency and effectiveness of the tax collection departments.
The Cabinet has already approved the new country liquor policy, while a policy has also been prepared for production of traditional and heritage alcoholic liquor at commercial level. The Cabinet has also approved amendment of Excise rules for according the status of bonded warehouse to CSD canteens to enable them to pay Excise duty at the time of sale.
Certain provisions of the Assam Motor Vehicle Rules have been amended for the enhancement of revenue collection, which include restructuring of the fees for conductor licence, duplicate driving licence, trade licence of motor vehicle dealers, agent licence, inspection fee of vehicles at arrival at dealer point, registration permission of new vehicles, etc. The government has introduced auction of fancy and choice registration marks, while online dealer point registration of vehicles has also been initiated.
Land reclassification will be done immediately with online provision to prevent breeding ground of corruption, while sale permission will be made online and time bound. All land revenue activities will be made online and collection of land revenue will be monitored online.
The government will pursue auction of marginal oilfields, while the government is proposing to take up the issue of developing the small coalfields which are not allotted to any PSUs and are vulnerable to illegal mining. The Geology and Mining Department will come out with a strategy for managing the non-forest sand mahals.
To boost revenue collection in the Environment and Forest Department, 101 new areas have been identified for extraction of sand which is expected to fetch additional revenue of Rs 45 crore. The minister also proposed review of issue of transit permits to vehicles entering the State, licence for agar wood industrial units, along with the proposal for flat rate permits.
Announcing that the country is poised to implement the GST with effect from July 2017, the minister revealed that the State will get a benefit of about Rs 300 crore per annum in terms of GST compensation for five years. Once the GST regime is implemented and stabilised, it may be possible for the State Government to gradually remove the check posts subject to any decision of the GST Council.