Kasaragod: Despite the increases in taxes and government fees, Kerala Finance Minister K N Balagopal did not increase the allocation for the Endosulfan Package, a fund mostly used to settle medical bills of endosulfan-affected patients, in the budget for 2023-24.
In his first budget, Balagopal slashed the allocation for the Endosulfan Package by Rs 2 crore to Rs 17 crore in 2022-2023.
In the latest budget, he retained the amount "for the comprehensive package for endosulfan victims". The package will be implemented through the Kerala Social Security Mission, the finance minister said.
To be sure, in the last budget of the first Pinarayi Vijayan-led government, finance minister T M Thomas Isaac had allocated Rs 19 crore for Endosulfan Package.
"How is Rs 17 crore enough when Kasaragod does not have any tertiary hospital," said Kasaragod MLA N A Nellikkunnu. Patients will have to depend on private medical colleges and super-speciality hospitals in Mangaluru, he said.
Last year, Balagopal said 80% of the Endosulfan Package, or Rs 13.6 crore, would be used for women survivors of endosulfan, leaving only Rs 3.4 crore for male survivors.
This year, he did not allocate the fund based on gender.
On October 19, 2022, the state government made a slew of promises to end the hunger strike of activist Daya Bai. The promises included setting updaycare centres in every panchayat for persons with intellectual disabilities. The budget is silent on it.
The budget also does not mention Kasaragod Medical College.
'Kasaragod Development Package'
The finance minister set aside Rs 75 crore for the Kasaragod Development Package, the same as last year when he slashed the fund by 40%.
Isaac had allocated Rs 125 crore in 2021-22 and before that Rs 91 crore for Kasaragod Development Package.
"Many important infrastructure projects in Kasaragod were implemented using the special fund. But the second term of the Pinarayi Vijayan government had thrown the development work in disarray by slashing allocations to key funds," said Manjeshwar MLA A K M Ashraf of the IUML.
Last year, the five MLAs of Kasaragod sent a Rs 250 crore proposal for Kasaragod Development Package and got Rs 75 crore. This year, they reduced their expectations and send a proposal for only Rs 150 crore. The allocation remains the same.
The focus of the proposal was on creating infrastructure to promote small businesses, value-added agriculture products, ecological restoration, water conservation, developing health infrastructure, and projects fisheries and animal husbandry. "We got only half of what we asked for," said Ashraf.
Nellikkunnu said the government had not cleared the bills of several contractors who implemented projects under the Kasaragod Development Package last year.
Overall, Ashraf said the budget betrayed the severe financial crisis staring at the face of the government. "This budget is not squeezing the people. It is looting the people," he said.
Air-strip, a copy-paste project
The long-proposed airstrips in Idukki, Wayanad, and Kasaragod are still in the conceptual stage, said the finance minister, earmarking Rs 4.51 crore for preparing Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) and acquiring land.
That was from last year's budget.
This year, the finance minister said "activities have been commenced to prepare DPR" and "to conduct feasibility studies in Idukki, Wayanad, and Kasaragod".
A special purpose company "will be" set up in PPP mode to establish airstrips throughout the State to promote tourism, and inter-district air journey and assist disaster response management.
He repeated that Rs 4.51 crore is earmarked for the project. He also announced that "Rs 20 crore is earmarked in the budget towards equity support of the state".
To be sure, the state government first gave permission for the Bekal airstrip at Periya in 2011.