The Kerala Government proposes to set up an Agricultural Debt Relief Commission and a separate Agricultural Commission with a view to affording immediate relief to heavily indebted farmers as well as to stabilise prices of farm produce.
Announcing this in his budget speech, the Finance Minister, Dr Thomas Isaac, said that a sum of Rs 156 crore was being allocated for the purpose.
The Debt Relief Commission will be accorded quasi-judicial status and will have extensive powers to decide on one-time settlement of loans, reduction of interest rates and declaration of moratorium on payments due, among others.
The separate Agricultural Commission will be vested with powers to fix floor prices and decide on procurement policies and crop insurance. It will also be mandated to execute a price stabilisation mechanism in conjunction with the Price Stabilisation Fund set up by the Centre.
The Minister also announced a package for crisis-ridden coconut farmers, which incorporates a more liberal tax regime.
The paddy sector has also found favor with the Finance Ministers budgetary allocations with Rs 53 crore being set apart. There will be separate Wayanad package envisaging Rs 501 crore, which promises relief to a community of farmers driven into committing a series of suicides that have come to be blamed on piling up debt. Under this, a family is entitled to receive Rs 5,000 in grant and another Rs 10,000 as part of Centrally sponsored schemes.
In another major announcement, the Finance Minister said the State Government would formulate a comprehensive Rs 3,000-crore project for all round development of coastal areas. This envisages provision of housing units, drinking water, electricity and sanitation facilities for the fishermen community.
Another major highlight of the Budget was the renewed thrust on the traditional sector in the State, especially coir. According to the Finance Minister, its about time that the coir industry is restructured in toto. He proposed to implement this during the course of the 11th Plan period. The cashew sector, the beedi industry and handloom were other areas that found special mention in the Budget speech.
In the industrial sector, a company would be floated in the lines of the Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) with major participation from the State-owned Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) and Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (Kinfra). The company intends to draw on the resources of the non-resident community as well.
A high-tech corridor along the Thiruvananthapuram-Kollam coastal highway will be the first major project to be taken up by the company. The Techno City project proposed in Thiruvananthapuram will also be pursued in right earnest.
Revitalisation of the public sector units is another major concern of the budget. According to the Finance Minister, the Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals will be taken up as test case. In the power sector, it is proposed to boost installed capacity by another 143 megawatt.
The Public Works Department is another major beneficiary of the 2006-07 Budget. Apart from the Rs 575 crore being made available as part of the Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP), the department will get another Rs 216 crore in Plan funds. Local bodies will get Rs 139 crore for road maintenance, while Rs 467.65 crore will be granted to them in non-Plan funds.