Kerala FM defends fuel cesses and taxes; Opposition boycotts Assembly

Finance Minister KN Balagopal. File Photo: Manorama Online

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Finance Minister K N Balagopal on Wednesday reiterated that there would not be a change in the tax proposals announced in the budget.

Balagopal, in his reply speech to the budget debate, said there won't be any change in the additional resource mobilisation plan. 

The finance minister added that the Opposition went on strike based on media reports and started it to force the government's hands.

The Opposition walked out of the House in protest.

The minister said the state cannot move forward without increasing taxes. Tax reforms are necessary for the security of more than 60 lakh families and for the progress of Kerala, he said. "Panchayats collect taxes that were introduced in 1970. This is the lowest in the country. The proposed increase will only benefit the panchayats." He added that the motor vehicle tax has been revised taking into account the taxes in other states.

Talking about the tax on alcohol, he said that it has not been increased for two years. "Highest sales is for liquor priced at Rs 500 per bottle. The tax has not been increased at that price point. Liquor priced above Rs 1,000 per bottle will see an increase of Rs 40 per bottle," the finance minister added.

The Centre collects Rs 7,500 crore through fuel cess and surcharge, he said. "The Center charges Rs 20 per litre of fuel. The budget has proposed a fuel cess of Rs 2 for social security," he added.

When Balagopal started his reply, he said the Opposition's criticism was a political exaggeration. The minister added that it was way above what he expected. He asked the Opposition whether it was enough to criticise only the state government without realising what was happening in the world.

"Don't miss the woods for the trees. The opposition is evaluating the state government's activities without seeing the larger picture. The Opposition will say that every budget is bad. The budget needs to be evaluated in the context of the Central government cutting the allocation to the states," he said in his speech.

The Central government gives huge tax breaks to corporates. Corporation tax has been reduced from 30% to 22%. Through this, the corporates get a relief of Rs 2,5 lakh. Central allocation of food security schemes and employment guarantee schemes has decreased. More money has been allocated to the higher education sector in the Kerala budget. If facilities are provided here, those who went abroad will come back," he added.

The FM that Rs 42 lakh was not spent on the cow shed at Cliff House. This was spent on the total maintenance of the cliff house including the boundary wall, he told the House.

He said Kerala would pay Rs 10 lakh to the war-ravaged Turkey.

Opposition leader V D Satheesan said Kerala should have been the first in the country in collecting GST. Kerala did not adjust its tax structure while receiving GST compensation. That negligence is the reason why the tax collection is only at 2 percent. The Opposition leader criticised that there was a failure in tax collection and fake trade was going on.

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