Submitted by alvin on Wed, 2017-03-15 19:22 Bengaluru: Ahead of the state assembly elections in early 2018, the Congress government in Karnataka in its Budget for fiscal 2017-18 on Wednesday doled out goodies, freebies and sops to students, urban and rural poor and farmers. Presenting a populist and tax-free Budget in the state legislative assembly here, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah told the lawmakers that free laptops would be given to 1.5 lakh students joining engineering, medical, polytechnic and degree colleges across the state in the new academic year. "We propose to open 'Our (Namma) Canteens' in 198 civic wards across Bengaluru to serve breakfast at Rs 5 and lunch and dinner at Rs 10 each to the common man," said Siddaramaiah in his two-hour-long Budget speech in Kannada. With the state reeling under drought over the last two years, the government has waived interest amounting to Rs 125 crore on agricultural loans of 74,525 farmers. "We have waived Rs 2,359 crore towards crop loans availed by 10.7 lakh farmers from cooperative societies since 2013-14 as against Rs 940 crore waiver given to four lakh farmers from July 1, 2011, to July 25, 2012, by the previous (the BJP) government," recalled the Chief Minister. "The state government has also paid Rs 45 crore interest subsidy on behalf of two-lakh farmers during fiscal 2015-16. Instalment payments for short-term and long-term loans have been extended till March 31 from September 30, 2015," said the Chief Minister. To mitigate the woes of 25 lakh drought-hit farmers, the Budget has proposed to disburse Rs 13,500 crore for crop loans up to Rs 3 lakh at zero per cent and Rs 10 lakh at 3 per cent interest rate per annum. "Similarly, loans to women self-help groups will be disbursed at zero per cent rate of interest as against 4 per cent per annum through cooperative societies," said Siddaramaiah, presenting his 12th Budget as the state's Finance Minster and fourth as the Chief Minister since May 2013. The Budget has earmarked Rs 600 crore in FY 2018 to provide protective irrigation to crops during the critical stages to combat drought and obtain higher income. "The Karnataka Raitha Suraksha Pradhana Manthri Fasal Bima Yojana will spend Rs 845 crore in 2017-18 to minimise the drought impact in 31.5 lakh hectares across the state," said Siddaramiah. To encourage rural youths to take to farming and use farm machinery, 174 rural farm machinery repair/service centres will be opened in each local body. "Drip irrigation facility will be provided to 35,000 farmers with 90 per cent subsidy at a cost of Rs 233 crore. To mitigate water scarcity to crops due to drought, 50 per cent subsidy (Rs 50,000) will be provided to 10 farmers per taluk to buy water tankers," added Siddaramaiah.