for The Economic Times on March 10, 2010
Economist-turned finance minister TM Thomas Isaac claims his latest budget is a green one, but its contents point to the budget being a 'spiritual' one as well, in more ways than one.
In his budget proposals for 2010-11, Isaac has suggested a 10% hike in tax for liquor other than beer and wine, and a reduction of 10% for beer and wine. In contrast, the finance minister has completely abolished tax on a number of items related to the spiritual realm, including rosaries, vibhooti and priestly robes for the Holy Mass.
That isn't all that the finance minister has done, from a religious point of view. He has proposed an allocation of Rs 20 lakh each to the Haj committee and the Wakf Board. And if the reduction in tax on wine is linked to the usage of wine in churches, that could be construed as another sop for religion.
Isaac says shops that sell items like rosaries and priestly robes make up only a miniscule part of the trading
community in the state, and hardly contributes to the state exchequer in terms of tax volumes, and that he had included the measure in his budget to formalize their exemption from taxation.
The Church in Kerala has been fighting the spread of drinking culture, particularly among youth and students. On Christmas day and its eve, liquor worth Rs 44.30 crore was sold in Kerala. But for the state government, excise and sales tax earnings from liquor form a large portion of its revenue
Sales of Kerala State Beverages Corporation are tipped to touch Rs 5,300 crore this fiscal, which will mean tax and excise earnings of over Rs 4,000 crore for the state government.
Interestingly, the sops given to religion and the minority appeasement allegations that it could trigger, come on the heels of two former MPs - KS Manoj and AP Abdullakutty - leaving the CPM, on grounds including the party's antipathy towards religious rites.