Thursday, Jun 08, 2023

Himachal Pradesh: Clean Energy, Focus On Girls And Women, Electoral Promises Dominate CM Sukhu’s 1st Budget

Himachal Pradesh: Clean Energy, Focus On Girls And Women, Electoral Promises Dominate CM Sukhu’s 1st Budget

Besides announcements like Rs 25,000 in subsidy to around 20,000 meritorious girl students for the purchase of e-scooters and Rs 1,500 per month in pension to 2.31 lakh women, Himachal Pradesh CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu in Budget 2023-24 also announced replacing 1,500 state-run diesel buses with e-buses and cess on hydro-power projects and liquor.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu presented his first Budget on Friday
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu presented his first Budget on Friday Credit: Outlook

In his first Budget for Himachal Pradesh, Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu on Friday sought to put the state on the path to becoming a “green energy state” by 2026 and announced a slew of measures for clean energy production and consumption. 

Besides clean energy, Sukhu’s Budget for the financial year 2023-24 also focused on girls and women and fulfilling a set of promises made to former government employees in election campaigns. 

Sukhu’s push to clean energy, e-vehicles

Sukhu, who also holds the finance portfolio, made a set of announcements with eyes on a greener Himachal. The measures addressed production as well as consumption side of energy.

Sukhu announced the setting up of a 500 MW solar energy project, a 50 per cent subsidy to private operators on e-buses and e-trucks, and a subsidy of up to Rs 25,000 to 20,000 meritorious girl students to purchase electric scooters. 

Sukhu also announced to replace 1,500 diesel buses of Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) fleet with e-buses in a phased manner at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore. He also announced the development of two of the gram panchayats as green panchayats on a pilot project and the development of six national and state highways as “green Corridors” for e- vehicles to reduce carbon emissions. 

In a further push to clean energy, Sukhu announced that the Himachal government will promote hydrogen-based economy.

Clean energy meets employment

Seeking to link the steps for ‘green Himachal’ with employment generation, Sukhu also announced a scheme to grant 40 per cent subsidy to youths intending to set up solar energy projects of 250 KW-2 MW that could bring an income of up to 15 lakhs. The power produced will be bought by Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB) in the government sector.

To present his government’s first Budget, Sukhu travelled to the Himachal assembly in an electric vehicle to send a strong message about his ‘mission green’ in the state.

Generating resources to fulfil promises

Sukhu’s first Budget also included new measures to generate revenue for schemes announced in the Budget and promises made earlier — such as the restoration of the old age pension (OPS) scheme that was a key plank on which Congress contested the assembly election. 

Sukhu proposed the following two cesses to shore up state revenue — 1) Cess on water for hydro-power projects that’s expected to fetch Rs 4,000 crore to the state, 2) Rs 10 ‘milk cess’ on each liquor bottle sold in Himachal that’s expected to bring Rs 100 crore per annum for promoting cow economy in the state.

Besides the two cesses, Sukhu also announced that the government would cut wasteful expenditures to save resources.

Sukhu also announced Rs 500 crore Him Ganga scheme to provide appropriate rate for milk to the farmers. The farmers and their groups will be provided loan at 2 per cent interest for start-ups, according to Sukhu’s Budget 2023-24.

For small traders, Sukhu announced a new scheme under which 1 per cent interest will be charged on a loan of up to Rs 50,000.

Kangra to be Himachal’s tourism capital: Sukhu

With a major focus on tourism, Sukhu said  Kangra —Himachal’s biggest district— will be developed as the ‘tourist capital’ with a golf course and Rs 300 crore-worth zoo. 

Sukhu also announced that his government will promote water sports in Kangra along with shikaras, cruise, and yacht facilities at Pong Dam. 

All 12 districts will be connected with heliport facilities in the next year, said Sukhu further, adding that Kangra airport would also be expanded. 

Sukhu on Himachal’s fiscal health, promises to employed class

While presenting Himachal’s Budget 2023-24, Sukhu claimed that the Congress government inherited a huge debt of Rs 75,000 crore with liabilities of Rs 10,000 crore payable to employees and pensioners as per revised pay scales and dearness allowance (DA).

Further, Himachal’s economy has been hit due to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government stopping GST compensation since June 2022 and reduction in the fiscal deficit grant, said Sukhu.

He added, “Still, I assure you that we won’t let this affect the state’s development and the Congress government will work to take Himachal to new heights.”

Sukhu announced to make new recruitment of 5,000 persons in Jal Shakti Department.

On election promises, Sukhu said despite critical fiscal health, his government has implemented OPS which will benefit 1.36 lakh employees. He sought help of the Opposition MLAs to get Rs 8,000 crore deposited with the Centre as share of the employees’ salaries under the NPS.

Sukhu said the government was committed to fulfilling all the 10 guarantees made in the last year’s assembly elections. In the first phase, he said 2.31 lakh women will start getting a pension of Rs 1,500 Per month — at the cost of Rs 416 crore to the state exchequer.

In the health sector, Sukhu said Rs 100 crore will be spent on bringing robotic surgery facilities to all six state medical colleges. One ‘model health institution’ will be set up in each assembly constituency. He said PET scan facilities will be set up in every medical college and nursing colleges would be set up in Chamba, Nahan, and Hamirpur medical colleges.

Moreover, Sukhu announced a major crackdown on drug trafficking in Himachal and said a bill will be tabled in the assembly proposing strict punishments for the drug mafia. The properties of people involved in drug trafficking will be frozen and taken over by the government, said Sukhu.