CPIML Statement on Karnataka Budget 2023

The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government has come to power on the emphatic mandate of the people rejecting the communal and corporate policies of the BJP government. CPIML had written to the Chief Minister cautioning that only focusing on the 5 promised guarantees is inadequate towards addressing the severe economic distress faced by the people in Karnataka. A bare reading of the Budget 2023-24 reveals that despite some positive budgetary declarations, much more needs to be done to protect the people’s interests, and we urge the State government to ensure the same.

In a welcome move, the State Government has announced that the Karnataka Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation and Development) (Amendment) Act, 2020 will be repealed. However, it is also necessary to repeal the other anti-people laws and amendments brought by the BJP government including the Factories (Karnataka Amendment) Act, 2023, Karnataka Land Reforms Amendment Act (2020), Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2021, the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act 2022, Karnataka Industries (Facilitation) (Amendment) Act, 2020 and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Karnataka Amendment) Act, 2019 (insofar as it that allows for exception from compliance with essential parts of the Act in regard to various projects).

The State Government must acknowledge the serious agrarian crisis resulting in suicides and migration, particularly from the districts in Kalyana Karnataka, and necessary measures have to be taken to address the same including a further increase in the MNREGA budget.  The Budget is also silent on the people’s demand of withdrawal of all pending so-called “land grabbing” cases against landless persons under the Land Grabbing Act and instead to grant title and implement the policy of land-to-the-tiller.

The Budget acknowledges the survival crisis of workers across the State and yet falls short of advancing necessary measures to address the same, particularly job and wage insecurity. While unemployment has been recognized as a major problem in the Budget, it is also important to recognize that insecure employment has become the only available employment – contract workers, gig workers, etc. – it is necessary to develop a policy to ensure that all those working under insecure conditions are ensured secure and just conditions of work and the new employment created is secure. Therefore it is necessary for the State government to have declared a minimum wage of atleast Rs. 35,000/- across the state.

The provision of social security to the ‘Gig Workers’ in the Budget, in the form of insurance has to be seen as a first step and further measures have to be taken to ensure that gig workers are given recognition as workers, and job and wage security.

CPIML reiterates its demand that the contract labour system must be abolished, and as first step this must be done in all government departments, companies and agencies. Moreover there is no mention of withdrawing the anti-labour policies and amendments of the previous BJP government.

What is shocking is that the Budget is completely silent on the regularization of Powrakarmikas including sweepers, drivers and helpers permanent despite this being the specific assurance made by the Congress in their manifesto. Instead much emphasis has been made on the Bengaluru Solid Waste Management Corporation Limited (BSWMCL), an unconstitutional body, to whom Rs. 1000 crore is sanctioned. Instead this ought to have been allocated towards strengthening the Solid Waste Department in local bodies across the State.

The Budget proposed the “Brand Bengaluru” theme to be focused on addressing nine challenges facing the city including, traffic management, environment, etc. However, it fails to address the ever increasing social and economic inequality subsisting in Bengaluru and fails to chalk out a plan in this regard.

While the Budget recognizes that gender inequality subsists, and declares its Shakti and Gruha Lakshmi schemes, adequate steps have not been taken to ensure the security of women workers, who work as pourakarmikas, ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, mid-day meals workers, hospital workers, housekeeping workers in various government departments. It is necessary that all the workers be ensured safe and just working conditions and made permanent. The garment workers, who are predominantly women, have been fighting continuously for better working conditions and increase in wages. The State government ought to addressed these in the Budget and the failure to do so is unacceptable.

We welcome the stand of the Government rejecting the New Education Policy, 2020, to reverse the changes made to school text-books and to frame a new policy for the State. It is essential that this policy must ensure strengthening the public education system and must promote scientific thought, inclusivity, diversity and secularism within the education system and must mandate gender justice, annihilation of caste, communal harmony in fulfilment of fundamental duties as part of the school/college curriculum. It is also necessary that measures be taken including eliminating uniform regulations and lifting the ban on wearing the Hijab, and to focus on re-integrating students who were previously forced to discontinue their education.

The State government has announced some initiatives for Adivasis in the Budget, but is silent on the crucial aspect of implementation of the Forest Rights Act in all earnest, and a declaration of cessation of evictions of Adivasis. It is shocking that there is no specific budgetary allocation towards providing houses to all Adivasis, particularly in Kodagu district, and towards implementing a land-to-all Adivasis policy.

The announcement of the repeal of Section 7D of the SCSP/TSP Act, 2013 is welcome and it is necessary to ensure that the allocated grants under SCSP/TSP scheme is spent towards economic and social justice of the Dalit and Adivasi community. The budget indicates that suitable amendments will be made to the Karnataka Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prohibition of Transfer of Certain Lands) Act, 1978 by prescribing timeline in the Act. Amendments must also be introduced to place the onus on the authorities to ensure that all alienated lands are restored to the grantees and any failure of the authorities will not defeat the rights of the grantees. Furthermore, given the increase in atrocities on Dalits, it was necessary that the Budget provided a specific allocation towards implementation of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 2015. CPI(ML) Liberation reiterates its demand that a special Assembly session be convened, to discuss the path to annihilation of caste and the means to counter atrocities against Dalits.

The Budget speaks of a commitment to constitutional values and makes certain announcements for religious minorities including a separate Board for Christians, but still falls short. While recognizing that law and order has suffered due to hate crimes and fake news, no commensurate measures have been proposed in the budget, which is shocking. No mention is made of the restoration of 2B reservations to Muslims.

The Budget rightly recognises that housing is a serious problem in the state. While the budget provides for steps to be taken towards provision of housing, it is necessary that a no-eviction policy be declared in regard to urban slums and a policy of housing-for-all be declared.

The State government has made the welcome announcement of extending nutrition to class 9 and 10 and providing eggs/bananas/chikkis twice a week. This must be clarified to be provided through the year, even when the schools are closed and a commitment has to be made to implement the recommendations of the Jst. N.K. Patil Committee and Jst. Venugopal Gowda Committee.

The Budget acknowledges that the state’s financial situation is alarming. It places the total outstanding liabilities of the State at Rs.5,16,788 crore at the end of 2022-23 with debt repayment liabilities of the State at 15.06% of the revenue receipts in 2023-24. This represents a quantitative leap from 2017-18 and points to the fiscal mess created by the previous government. This implies that the per citizen debt in the state is now above Rs. 1,00,000/- per citizen. With increased borrowings in this Budget, it is obvious that this debt burden will only increase, even as the Budget fails to provide concrete measures to address the same.

The Budget highlights the fact that even though Karnataka is one of the main contributors to Centre’s revenue collection, only 3.65% of the divisible pool is devolved to the State by the Central Government. The Budget pins part of the blame for the dismal fiscal situation in the state on the Union government for discontinuing GST compensation since July 2022, refusing to share the cess and surcharges collected and decreasing the Grant in aid allocation for Centrally Sponsored Schemes. The State government cannot shirk its responsibility to better the fiscal situation in the state. Having said that, the people of Karnataka have to raise their voices against this gross injustice being meted out to the state by the Modi government.

Importantly, the Budget acknowledges, that the major share of GST comes from the bottom 60% people of society while most profits of the economic system go to top 10% people of society. The Siddaramaiah government, if it is serious to remove this injustice, must better its policies and implement the various measures suggested by the CPI(ML) Liberation.