Nirmala Sitharman visits Sikkim for Budget Outreach programme
DECCAN CHRONICLE | DC Correspondent
Gangtok (Sikkim): Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday held an interaction with stakeholders, officers and chambers of commerce, SHGs and entrepreneurs at Chintan Bhawan in Gangtok.
Taking note of her visit to Sikkim, as part of the post-Financial Budget Outreach programme for 2023, Sitharaman termed it a 'Gateway to the North East' for the Budget outreach programme.
"In the last four-five years, post the budget, we made it a practice to have the entire Ministry move around the country to various cities and there interact with the stakeholders, officers and chambers of commerce, SHGs, and so on to understand what they have perceived of the budget and if they need any clarity. They could have an exchange of ideas, the first time I did it in 2019 I found it very useful," Sitharaman said.
"We were able to explain the budget in detail and sometimes, some ideas were given that we found very useful which we could carry forward. So in that process, this year, after the Budget was submitted, we had already covered Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Jaipur and Mumbai. Now we are here to Sikkim as a gateway of Northeast, so for the Northeast region, this year's budget outreach programme we have come to Gangtok," she added.
Sitharaman will also be virtually inaugurating the Yangang Ropeway Project virtually today.
On the successful completion of the ambitious tourism project in Namchi district, Sitharman stated, "I will be launching the ropeway via video conference, from Dhapper to Bhaleydhunga in Yangyang tomorrow. The project is a beneficiary of the PM DevINE which came last year. So you are seeing results of allocations made for capital expenditure through the PM DevINE. This is a classic example and another project for which the foundation is being laid tomorrow again is a direct beneficiary of the PM DevINE scheme".
On the ongoing debacle over Income Tax exemption for old settlers in the January 13 Supreme Court verdict, Sitharman said, "Immediately after the judgment came out, it was the Union government which approached the Supreme Court and said please expunge the remarks which were not germane to the question which was being discussed. Through the immediate response and action of the Central government, that has been removed, in other words, the intent of the Central government to respect the privileges and rights of the Sikkimese has been kept intact. The Centre responded to the situation immediately without any delay so that proves our intent and you can be assured. I wish to assure the people of Sikkim that nothing has changed as regards to Sikkimese, the court case had already been dealt with."
On being questioned over the closing of international border trade along the Indo-China border in Nathula, she said, "This was an issue which was raised in the meeting today and we have taken note of the request. It was shut [down] in 2020 after that it has not been reopened. If it is kept open we have taken note of it but that is the business of the Home ministry, we will certainly convey to the Home ministry."
In terms of devolution of central taxes, Sikkim received the lowest share in the country at Rs. 3963.23 Crores in the past year. However, the finance secretary TV Somanathan went on to inform about Sikkim receiving the highest devolution of central taxes.
Asked about how the budget would impact North East India, Finance Secretary TV Somanathan, who was alongside the Finance Minister, said, "The schemes for the North East Council, the outlay has gone up from Rs 644 crores in 2022-23 to Rs 800 crore in the current budget."
"For the North East infrastructure development schemes including roads has gone up from Rs. 1419 crore in 2022-23 to Rs. 2491 crore, for the PM DevINE which had Rs. 400 crore in the revised estimate is going up to Rs. 2200 Crore in coming years," he said.
"In addition to this under the scheme of 50-year interest-free loans to States for capital expenditure, there is an increase of 30 per cent and Sikkim is one of the States which gets disproportionately higher allocation. For many of the States, we give it based on the share which they get under the Finance Commission but for the NE States, the Government of India has decided to give more than the proportionate share. Sikkim will be a major beneficiary in the increase in loans for capital investment by States, this is in addition to other ongoing developmental programmes. The increase in the budget for infrastructure particularly for roads will also benefit the NHIDCL," he added.
On the connectivity of villages through PM Gram Sadak Yojana, the Finance Ministry said that Sikkim has its own challenges but heliports can be constructed.
"The budget announces 50 helipads. Connectivity also means digital connectivity, the focus is equally given to the border villages through optic fibre but making sure that panchayats, schools and PHCs can get connectivity, other services can follow, and students can get online classes," he elaborated.
The Union Finance Minister lauded the state to be the first State in India to fully adopt organic farming. She urged the State Government to prepare a clear action plan for supporting organic farming in the state after consultation with all the stakeholders.
The Minister shall also visit the border villages in Lachen during her visit to understand the saturation of the schemes through the banking sector to the beneficiaries and the items proposed under the 'Vibrant Villages' programme are being fulfilled.