The third day of the Seventh Session of the Tenth Assembly (Budget Session 2023-24) of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly started with the Question Hour. Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang, who is also the leader of the House, emphasized the importance of revenue generation for the government budget. He provided details of the revenue collection in recent financial years, showing consistent growth despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To mobilize additional revenue and prevent revenue leakages, the State Government has implemented various measures in different departments:
1. Forest Department: Introduced Eco System Service Cess for pharmaceutical companies and hydro power projects, deployed mobile units to check vehicles carrying timber, upgraded forest check posts, and introduced online gate ticketing systems for parks and gardens.
2. Power Department: Installed prepaid energy meters to prevent under assessment of energy consumption and conducted frequent energy meter checking drives to curb energy theft.
3. Excise Department: Launched the E-Abkari project for online application/renewal of excise licenses and permits, resulting in increased revenue generation and convenience for the public.
4. Finance Department (Commercial Tax Division): Provided mobility vehicles to conduct checks on consignments of goods taxable under GST, with an enforcement center being developed to detect tax evasion.
5. Transport Department: Enlisted private buses under SNT supervision, brought heavy construction and road machinery under supervision, and collected supervision charges online at check posts to prevent revenue leakages.
6. PHE Department: Implemented a volumetric system for water tax collection from commercial establishments, increasing revenue collection.
The Chief Minister assured the House that the government will continue to focus on revenue enhancement and eliminating leakages.
Regarding the protection of Sikkimese identity and Clause IV and V of the Finance Act, 2023, the Minister-in-Charge for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Department, Shri Kunga Nima Lepcha, informed that the Chief Minister had met the Union Finance Minister and submitted a letter to safeguard the Sikkimese identity as defined in the Tripartite Agreement of 1973 and Article 371F of the Constitution. The Ministry of Finance clarified that the term "Sikkimese" in the Finance Act refers only to the Income Tax Act.
The Sikkim Legislative Assembly passed a resolution defining "Sikkimese" as the three ethnic communities of Lepcha, Bhutia, and Nepali origin. They requested the deletion of clause (iv) and clause (v) from the Finance Act and sought necessary amendments to maintain the exclusivity of the term 'Sikkimese' and protect Sikkimese people's distinct identity.
An All-Party Committee has been constituted to examine Article 371F, with Shri Kunga Nima Lepcha as the chairman and other members.
Regarding the pension scheme, a committee has been formed to examine the restoration of the Old Pension System for employees covered under the New Pension System. The committee is expected to complete its report by June 9, 2023.
The House also discussed and passed three bills related to Sikkim National Law University (Amendment), Sikkim Global Technical University, and Sikkim Organic Agriculture University.
During the discussion on Separate Demands for Grants, the Minister for Rural Development, Cooperation, and Ecclesiastical Departments mentioned the increase in the Chief Minister Rural Housing Mission's budget allocation due to rising raw material costs. The department is also working on providing water facilities in rural areas and preserving the sanctity of Gurudongmar Lake.
The Minister for Roads and Bridges Department and Culture Department addressed queries on budget allocation for government infrastructure projects and explained the impact of rising raw material prices on project costs.
The Demands for Grants were put to a vote and passed by the House.
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