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Kolkata: WITH an eye on the panchayat polls which is likely in April, Mamata Banerjee government has announced a slew of social welfare measures in the State Budget 2018-19.

Finance minister Amit Mitra presented the Rs 214,958.75-crore Budget in the state Assembly this afternoon with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seated next to him.

In his 15-minute budget speech, Mitra proposed no new taxes or an increase in existing tax rates ~ a trend that he has been following for the past two fiscal years.

Of all the social welfare measures that the minister announced, only one will specifically benefit the middle-class ~ be it in the urban or the rural areas. This pertains to one per cent cut in stamp duty on purchase of flats or homestead land ranging between Rs 40-lakh to Rs 1-crore.

In urban areas, the stamp duty will get reduced to 6 per cent from the existing 7 per cent; in rural areas, it will come down to 5 per cent from the existing 6 per cent. The move will mainly benefit the urban middle-class, who are growingly opting for flats or row houses in rural clusters located in the proximity of urban hubs.

All the rest welfare measures announced in the budget today are targeted at the rural populace.

These include a complete mutation fee waiver on the purchase of land for agriculture, setting up a Rs 100-crore special fund to stop distress sell by farmers, and waiver of agriculture tax for the tea industry for the next two fiscal years (until March 2020).

The tea industry has also been exempted from paying education cess and rural employment cess in 2018-19.

The government has increased the monthly pension from Rs 750 now to Rs 1,000 given to elderly farmers. The number of beneficiaries of this pension scheme will also be raised to 1-lakh from the present 66,000.

A new allowance scheme named Manabik has been announced for the disabled people and Rs 250-crore has been allocated for this. Under this scheme, Rs 1,000 monthly pension will be given to individuals with 50 per cent or above disability.

The existing scheme, wherein Rs 750 monthly allowance is given to individuals with 30 per cent disability, will continue alongside.

The annual stipend given to girl students under the Chief Minister’s pet project Kanyashree has also been increased to Rs 1000 from the existing Rs 750.

This apart, a new scheme named Rupashree has been announced to help poor families in the marriage of their daughters. Under this scheme, families with an annual income of less than Rs 1.5-lakh will be given a one-time assistance of Rs 25,000 during the marriage of their daughter aged 18 years or above.

Mitra has allocated Rs 1,500-crore for this scheme while mentioning that it has been conceived by the Chief Minister. He informed the Assembly that as many as 8.92-lakh “employment was ensured” in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

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