'We will abolish Local Body Tax in this year's Budget'
'Our government will never think about money when helping needy farmers'
'Our next budget will be completely based on the feedback from the common man'
Maharashtra Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar speaks to Prasanna Zore/Rediff.com.
Sudhir Mungwantiwar (pictured, below, with Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis), who will be presenting his maiden budget March 18, says his proposals will be influenced by the feedback he has received online and offline from Maharashtra's aam aadmi and in the next five years he will make efforts to implement all the feasible ideas suggested by the people.
While he categorically stated that Local Body Tax, a thorny issue with the state's traders, will be abolished in the forthcoming budget, he equally categorically stated that toll tax, another thorny issue in the state, is here to stay.
"As the state's finance minister I would not want abolition of toll tax across the state because it will tremendously increase our liabilities. If that happens, the state will not have much left for the welfare of the poor and farmers of the state," he tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com.
The acceptance of one of the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission by the Centre will put more money into Maharashtra's treasury now. How much more is the state likely to get and how do you plan to allocate the additional resources that come your way?
It is only a half-truth that the states will be getting more money because of the acceptance of this 14th Finance Commission recommendation by the Centre. While the share of states in the tax collected by the Centre has been increased from 32 per cent to 42 per cent, the states will have now more say in the schemes that will be implemented for their own welfare.
But while this share is likely to increase in percentage terms, the actual amount likely to get into the state's kitty will be going down. Because the Centre will now cut down on its share for the schemes meant for the states.
Earlier, the Centre controlled the money as well as what scheme to implement in a given state based on the schemes they implemented. Now, the Centre will not make schemes for the states. The states will get more money and every state will decide what is good or bad for them.
If the states think that they need more of social security, infrastructure, employment-generating schemes, then they will be free to make use of this money as they deem fit.
While it is too early to ask, what's the preliminary assessment of the losses the state farmers will suffer because of the unseasonal rains?
It will be difficult to give you an accurate picture of the actual losses suffered by the farmers and their crops (newspaper reports peg these at Rs 1000 crore) but being in power in the state we have decided that our government will never think about money when helping the needy farmers of Maharashtra. Farmers are the backbone of Maharashtra and any problems faced by them will always be considered seriously.
I assure the farmers of Maharashtra that whatever help is needed by those who have suffered losses because of the unseasonal rains will be duly compensated after the panchnamas (preliminary reports of losses) are filed.
Will your budget have some special packages for the farmers of Vidarbha and Marathwada and also for those who would have faced financial losses because of the unseasonal rains on February 28 and March 1?
We have already promised Jalyukt Shivar (water in every village) so that it becomes a medium to help Maharashtra's farmers. My farmer is very hard working. He toils and earns his livelihood. We don't have to make provisions for the losses they suffer only in the state's annual budget. In times of dire need we can make advances using the state's contingency fund too.
What package will be given to these farmers is not so important as standing with these farmers in their bad times is. And we are there to support them now. If need be, we will use money from the contingency fund too.
We want to send a clear message that the state government will always stand by the farmers of Maharashtra.
Any special package for farmers of Vidarbha and Marathwada?
We are quite serious about solving the issues of the farmers of these two regions of Maharashtra. The Jalyukt Shivar scheme that I spoke about is part of a programme to help farmers in drought prone, rain-deficient areas of the state. We plan to bring 5000 such villages under this scheme during the first phase and gradually take this scheme to all such villages that are deficient in water resources.
Along with this, we will soon implement programmes for improving the agricultural and farm productivity in the state. We will be looking at developing food and fruit processing units, develop farmland clusters and will soon announce a five-year plan to help the farmers in these regions. Our programmes will be in sync with similar schemes announced by the Centre.
We will soon launch pilot projects at a few places and based on our learnings and feedback from the farmers will take these programmes across Maharashtra.
What happens to the Local Body Tax now that you had promised to abolish it in your election manifesto? Will it be abolished in the state budget?
That is our commitment (to the traders of Maharashtra). Pran jaye par vachan na jaye (we will lay down our lives but never backtrack on our promise).
Will this happen in the forthcoming budget?
Yes, we will abolish LBT in this year's budget.
How do you plan to make up for the revenue losses to the state's kitty if you abolish LBT?
Wait for the budget and you will know (our plans to make up for the loss of revenue).
We want to make sure of three things:
- We will not do anything that will create unnecessary problems for the traders. It is not that traders don't want to pay tax. So, whatever taxes have to be levied will be done after consulting the stakeholders.
- We have also decided that the local municipal bodies who earn revenue out of LBT should not suffer revenue losses because of the abolition of LBT.
- Municipal corporations are autonomous institutions and we will not do anything to endanger their autonomy. They will be fairly compensated for their revenue losses.
This is our thinking and in the forthcoming budget you will get to see how we go about doing these three things.
Tell us about your position on the abolition of highway toll in Maharashtra? You wanted a comprehensive review of the previous state government's toll tax policy. What can Maharashtra expect from its new finance minister on the payment and collection of toll?
The government is quite serious about solving this vexatious issue. As the state's finance minister I would not want abolition of toll tax across the state because it will tremendously increase our liabilities. If that happens, the state will not have much left for the welfare of the poor and farmers of the state.
We will try to reconcile all the injustices done by the previous government as far as accepting tenders of projects based on built operate and transfer basis are concerned.
The previous Congress-NCP government was under a massive cloud of corruption in the irrigation department. While the investigations and various commissions appointed by your government to look into the matter and prove the guilt of those involved will happen over time, will you be able to recover the losses for the state that this corruption could have caused?
Losses, to some extent, could be recovered. But before that, whoever indulged in this corruption must face the stick of the law. They must be punished by the law. This money belongs to the people of the state. We are the trustees of its resources. It is a sin to cause huge losses to the people for private benefit. And that is the reason why this government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party is sincerely making efforts to unearth all the wrongdoing (in the water resources ministry).
This is not politics. If we punish these corrupt elements responsible for the scams then the people who will rule this state in the future will always fear the rule of law. They will realise that corrupt practices will not be tolerated in Maharashtra anymore and corrupt politicians will face the music.
The scams and corrupt practices of the ministers belonging to previous government took Maharashtra back by 10 years.
Will you be able to recover the losses and use them for the benefit of the state?
See, losses cannot be recovered and that is the reason why people indulging in corruption get punished. At places where we can recover the losses, we will. But at places where we cannot, the state will have to suffer those losses.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena were strident in their attack on the Congress-NCP government for farmer suicides. But they haven't abated even after you came to power. In fact, the current Maharashtra NCP president and former state finance minister Sunil Tatkare has alleged that farmers' suicides have increased under the BJP-SS rule. He has claimed that you have failed to bring 'achche din' to the state's farmers.
Suicides of farmers cannot be a good tiding for any government. And achche din koi do din main nahi aate (one cannot usher in good times in a short time).
It takes some time to clean the dirt that has accumulated at one place since the last 50 years. The losses that Maharashtra suffered during the 15-year rule of Tatkareji's party and their allies will take at least some time to recover. We haven't yet finished 15 months in power and they expect us to clean the dirt and muck that has been spread in the state by the Congress and NCP since the last 15 years!
But, Tatkareji's statement clearly speaks that he has accepted his failure in stopping the suicides of farmers under their tenure. I will thank him for acknowledging that these suicides can be stopped only by the incumbent BJP-SS government. He has realised that we possess the will and strength to solve the issues faced by the farmers of Maharashtra.
Since they couldn't stop these suicides, the people of the state did not spare them. We will implement farmer-friendly policies to help gradually finish the scourge of farmer suicides in Maharashtra.
You had asked for suggestions on WhatsApp, email and mail for your maiden budget. What kind of response have you got from experts and the people of Maharashtra?
Any budget should belong to the common man and not the elite. I had little time now (to get more feedback from the people), but agle budget main toh sirf aam aadmi hi dikhega (the next state budget will be completely based on the feedback given by the common man). Due to lack of time this year I could not reach every corner of the state. But I spoke with the elected legislators of all the constituencies, discussed the situation with office-bearers from all over Maharashtra and I am happy to say that we have been flooded with thousands of suggestions.
Out of these I will implement some in this budget; some which are difficult to implement in this budget, will be implemented in the next budget and some suggestions will need to be studied in depth, discussed thoroughly and then bring them on the drawing board.
While some suggestions are very good, we have to also look at the resources available to my government.
This will be the first ever budget to have listened to the suggestions from the common man and sincerely tried to implement them. Like there was this suggestion to get wi-fi across Maharashtra but to do that we don't have the thousands of crores of rupees required.
There is also a suggestion to complete all the irrigation projects in the state. But from where will I bring Rs 60,000 crore when my entire budgetary plan is about Rs 50,000 crore to 55,000 crore?
There are suggestions to cut salaries of government employees. That is not feasible at all. But of course, what we can do is initiate steps to increase the efficiency and productivity of the state government employees.
Tell us about the top five suggestions that you liked the most and which are feasible to be implemented in the forthcoming budget…
- Computerisation of the state should be done for the benefit of the people and not government officials. What this means is they should be able to avail of facilities like making of birth/death certificates, land ownership records, getting ration cards, etc in a convenient way.
- People have been asking for building of clean toilets for women on highways and city/town/village roads.
- Instead of making policies for the benefits of just big industrialists, make policies that will benefit owners of small and micro industries, people engaged in traditional occupations and skill development of illiterate people leading to their employment.
- I also liked the suggestion that wants this government to prepare a balance sheet of the resources -- financial, human, industrial, etc -- available in the state and ways to optimise these resources so that employment, illiteracy and poverty could be reduced.
- I also liked the suggestions that called for not looking at farmers from the lens of sympathy. Are we doing a big favour to the farmers by helping them? Absolutely not. Because even though their share in the state's GDP may move around 10 to 12 per cent, their share in employment is at 52 per cent. So, the agricultural sector is the biggest employer in the state. And hence, stop looking at them with sympathy. Instead, give them opportunities and see them flower and prosper. I will strive to make the farmer of this state self-reliant in the next five years.
Your views on the Union Budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley? Will you be incorporating any ideas that will sync with the Union Budget…
The budgets presented by the Congress-led UPA were just a one-day affair. Nobody knew what they did for the rest of the 364 days of the year. The Congress is a party that sold just empty dreams to the people. This is the first time that Arun Jaitleyji didn't sell empty dreams to the people of India. He did not bother about whether people will say good or bad about him after budget day. He focused only on what the nation needs. And he put forth a budget that fulfills the aspirations of the people of India and strengthens the economic future of India. He has given a budget based on Narendrabhai Modi's leadership to put India on the path of high growth and high employment for the masses.
Give us a broader outline of the budget that you will be presenting on March 18…
My budget will chiefly focus on empowerment of women, employment-generation, development of agriculture and infrastructure and tourism.
Will it be a surplus or deficit-budget?
I don't give much importance to surplus or deficit budgets. Any state will mostly run deficits if it is focused on development. We will have to set parameters of progress and based on these parameters the budget will be presented.
What will be the Maharashtra government's stance on the Land Acquisition Bill when it is passed by Parliament?
I fail to understand the controversies surrounding this Bill. The ordinance issued by the BJP-led NDA government has not tampered with the interest of farmers. They have amended certain rules so that certain important sectors can be developed. Of course, these issues can be discussed threadbare. I can only say that we have to keep progressing without harming the interests of the farmers. They should get their rightful due.
What I am feeling is there is no dialogue happening on this important issue. Yeh sab ego hurt hai (people are wrangling unnecessarily because their ego is hurt).
Jaisa Shiv Sena ne kaha ki Gadkariji agar pehle mile hote, toh hum alag sochte the (had Union Minister for Surface Transport Nitin Gadkari met us earlier we would have thought of the Land Acquisition Bill differently). Der se mile isiliye alag soch rahe hai (he delayed meeting us, so we are opposing the Bill).
Do you think this opposition is happening based on the issues related to the Land Acquisition Bill? Yeh toh sab ego ki baat ho rahi hai ki hum ko kyun nahi poocha (their ego is hurt because they were not consulted).