Sobered by Delhi’s stinginess, Drabu focuses on reforms, no big promises

By A. AALIM AHMMAD
SRINAGAR: Finance minister Haseeb Drabu presented the much-delayed budget he said was aimed at providing ‘relief’ to common people, empowerment of women, strengthening anti-corruption mechanism and generating employment through entrepreneurship.
This is Drabu’s second budget and the first of the coalition led by Mehbooba Mufti in whose ‘deference’ Drabu also announced a slew of “gender specific” measures.
Drabu’s 80-minute speech was in English rather than in the state’s official Urdu language and mostly bereft of customary literary spiciness one would expect from a minister who also holds charge of culture.
Most of the legislators were struggling to make sense of the calculations and statistics that Drabu, an eminent banker and former head of Jammu and Kashmir bank, presented. Many legislators were seen yawning or sleeping.
The first few minutes of the speech were consumed by opposition legislators’ shouting. Omar Abdullah got offended when chief minister Mehbooba Mufti gestured to Drabu to continue his speech without bothering about the ruckus.
This led to his walk-out followed by all his party legislators. Others, however, stayed put except mercurial Sheikh Rashid who was later ordered to be marshaled out by the speaker.
Drabu sought to pinpoint, for the first time in three decades, the ‘fiscal hara-kiri’ on the management of provident fund of government employees. He said the liability on account of provident fund by the end of March 2015 is a whopping Rs 14, 058 crore but there is no cash in the PF kitty.
said the ‘ponzi-game’ is likely to show its damning effect when employees will again start retiring by June-end, when the two-year moratorium due to enhancement of retirement age by two years ends. He said for course correction, “major, painstaking and creative clean-up” is required.
Drabu said he has altered the entire power purchase and power receipts accounting system to arrest mounting power losses.
He said the treatment of wages of daily-rated, casual, seasonal, need based and other categories of workers needed ‘significant reform’.
The wages are unethically paid irregularly, wages spend on these workers are concealed and the payments are derived from other heads like maintenance of assets that eventually deprives the asset maintenance, he added.
He said this faulty system was responsible for taking the situation to a pass where “shortsightedness of our policymakers and ad hocism of our accountants has hurt our society through a ‘casualisation’ of our youth,” he said.
“This is no longer a financial problem. It is a social issue,” he said. He promised to address the issue of 61,000 families of such employees with “empathy and understanding”.
Drabu appeared to be thankful to Mehbooba Mufti for assigning the finance portfolio to him despite the contrasting rumours during the government formation.
“In deference to our first woman chief minister, I am introducing some gender specific budgeting initiatives,” he said. One initiative was to open four more all-women police stations in Kupwara, Kathua, Udhampur and Pulwama. The state has six women police stations.
Drabu proposed to set up a journalist welfare fund with corpus money of Rs 2 crore. He also proposed to set-up a heritage conservation fund for heritage buildings in the state. He said that he intended to take up 50 listed structures out of 800 for restoration with an earmarking of Rs 5 crore this year.
Disappointing, says Kashmir Inc

There is nothing for the business community and traders. The government has done nothing for the businessmen who suffered during 2014 flood. The budget is Haseeb Drabu’s politics.
Mohammad Yaseen Khan,Chairman Kashmir Economic Alliance
 
We are losing Rs 3000-4000 crore on importing power. The government should have restored the power sector by implementing a new policy in the new budget session. There is hardly anything for medium and small scale industries. Late Mufti sahab had identified 55 tourism destinations like Dodhpathri. Funds should have been allocated for those destinations to boost tourism sector in the Valley. There should have been more funds for repair of roads in the city. Budget has ignored local labour force who should have been provided incentives like health cover in case of injury.
Professor Nisar Ali, economist

Those traders who suffered damages above Rs 10 lakh and were not insured have been completely sidelined. What will a mere 5% raise in allocation for tourism do for this sector?
Mushtaq Wani, President KCCI
 
There will be no immediate relief to carpet industry, which the finance minister admitted is in crisis. We held pre-budget consultations with him but the budget has provided no major relief to the industry.  We wanted corpus fund for this vital sector with which livelihood of thousands of weavers is attached.
Sheikh Ashiq, head of Carpet Export Promotion  Council, JK region