LAHORE -  The Punjab government has presented its fifth budget with major focus on infrastructure development, education, health and social sector.

The Rs1.97 trillion total outlay of Budget 2017-18 is 17 percent larger than last year’s total outlay of Rs1.68 trillion.

Presenting the budget on Friday, just a day after a poverty-stricken woman commit suicide along with her three daughters in Multan, provincial Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghous Pasha proposed record allocation of Rs201 billion for social sector.

The allocation, meant for women development, water supply and sanitation, is historic in magnitude and is 32 percent higher than last year’s allocation for this sector.

The highest raise in terms of percentage however has been proposed for Education, with an overall allocation of Rs345 billion – up by 33 percent as compared to the ongoing fiscal year’s allocation.

The health sector has been allocated a total of Rs263b, almost 15.4 percent of the total outlay of the budget for 2017-18.

The government has increased the Annual Development Programme allocation by 15 percent as compared to previous year’s Rs550 billion. The minister in her budget speech said the provisions of total Rs635 billion for development programmes were unprecedented in the country's history.

She also announced a drastic reduction in GST on construction services - from 16 to just 5 percent - to spur growth in construction sector. Also, it has been proposed to end all kinds of registration fee for new firms.

The budget sitting was chaired by Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan and also attended by Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The next financial year's general revenue receipts are estimated at Rs1,502 billion, as the provincial government would receive a total of Rs1,154 billion from federal divisible pool under National Finance Commission (NFC) Award.

A total of Rs348 billion will be generated from province's own revenues, including Rs230 billion in tax revenues and Rs117 billion in non-tax revenues. The minister said government will also launch investment bond of Rs25 billion in the open market for revenue collection.

Total current expenditure for next fiscal year is estimated at Rs1,021 billion, including Rs258 billion for salaries, Rs173 billion for pensions, Rs361 billion for local governments and Rs228 billion for service delivery- mainly for education, health and law and order.

Dr Ayesha said that 59 percent of total budget has been allocated for education, health, agriculture, law and order and local governments, earmarking a total of Rs1,017 billion for these sectors.

The provincial minister proposed 10 percent raise in the salaries and pensions of the Punjab government employees. She said the minimum monthly wages of labourers and industrial workers will now be Rs15,000, that is equal to the minimum wage set by the federal government for workers.

In the upcoming budget an allocation of Rs7 billion was also made for provision of laptops to 115,000 students. Punjab government has distributed laptops among around 300,000 students at a cost of Rs20 billion in last four years.

She also announced the establishment of district education authorities with expenditure of Rs230 billion. Under education sector, Rs6b have been allocated under ‘zewar-e-talim’ programme for girls while Rs3 billion will be spent on text books distribution in Punjab schools.

Allocation of Rs6 billion has been proposed for 36,000 new class rooms and Rs2 billion for missing facilities. The government announced Rs44 billion for higher education to be spent on establishment of 50 new degree colleges and three new universities in Punjab.

The finance minister also announced upgradation of primary school teachers scale from 9 to 14. She announced that ESTs will be upgraded to 15 scale along with provision of two additional annual increments for them.

Out of total allocation of Rs263 billion under health sector, Rs112 billion have been earmarked for primary and secondary healthcare, almost double of the allocation of last year, while Rs73 billion was estimated for the newly-established district health authorities.

Dr Ayesha said that over 100 mobile health units are being launched within few weeks in southern Punjab.

Rs120 billion have been earmarked for specialised healthcare and medical education while Rs3 billion will be spent on hepatitis patients.

The government also announced to expand Punjab Food Authority at a cost of Rs2 billion and turn it into Punjab Agriculture, Food and Drug Authority to examine medicine, food and pesticides quality.

Rs5 billion will be allocated for provision of clean drinking water in the budget for 2017-18.

A total allocation of Rs140 billion was made for overall agriculture including irrigation, livestock, forestry food and fisheries. Under Kisan Package, a sum of Rs15 billion was allocated for provision of subsidised agri inputs. Under Khadim-e-Punjab rural road programme, Rs17 billion was allocated for construction of 1,400km road sections, besides allocation of Rs90 billion for overall road sector. The government will continue orange cab for youth, for which Rs35 billion have been allocated in next fiscal.

The finance minister said that government completed several power plants during the current fiscal year including Sahiwal Coal power plant with expenditure of Rs180 billion, LNG Bhikki power plant, Balloki and Haveli Bahadur Shah plants. The power produced from these plants will be included in the national grid system this year, she added.

For industrial upgradation, Rs15 billion was allocated, including Rs4 billion for Quaid-e-Azam Apparel Park.

The finance minister also announced launch of metro bus project in Faisalabad this year, while Rs94 billion will be obtained from Chinese Exim Bank for Lahore’s Orange Line during the next fiscal year.

Monitoring Desk adds: It was also learnt that an increase has been proposed in stamp duty on property while tax has been increased on internet services. And, Rs1.16 billion have been allocated for the minorities.