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By Nitya Chakraborty
The 2017-18 budget is a desperate gamble of the NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hoodwink the common masses by sidelining the adverse impact of the demonetisation on the rural economy, especially the informal sector by highlighting the so called new programmes in agriculture. The effects of demonetisation will not spill over the next year-that is the brunt of the message in the Economic Survey and the Budget but what will happen to the loss of jobs during the current financial year due to demonetisation that has disrupted the rural economy? There is no answer and there is no concerted move to create additional jobs in the economy while the Government is talking of a cashless one.
The agriculture sector has got some focus but how does it help in increasing the income of the struggling farmers. The most adversely affected farmers have been given no relief in respect of their pending loans. Also, the talks of BJP leaders about the farm loan waivers have no basis. What the budget has announced is a Rs. 10 lakh crore as credit to farmers with 60 days interest as waiver but this does not solve the problem of the highly distressed farmers who are feeling the burden of huge loans and who have been subjected to the vagaries of demonetisation for the last three months.
The health care for the poor is a big issue in India and there has been lot of talks at the level of the ruling leadership about the need for a health insurance and medical facilities covering all sections of the poor and underprivileged. A model health insurance document was also prepared and discussed. Leading economists of the country have been calling for the introduction of this healthcare programme for the poor at free costs, but there has been no response from the NDA government in this budget. Mention has been made of transforming 1.5 lakh health sub centres into health wellness centres. There is talk of elimination of tuberculosis by 2025 which was decided during UPA government itself and there is no advancement in that.
In fact in the health sector, the Modi government has missed a big opportunity in entirely transforming the health care segment by actively involving the Government agencies with the task of providing cheap drugs to the poor and underprivileged. In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has introduced the supply of all essential drugs to the poor at free costs in the government hospitals and this has had its effect on the operations of the private hospitals also. The Government has been talking of poor but has neglected in this budget also the all important issue of affordable health care for the common masses.
The most distressing thing about this listless budget is the absence of any concrete programme of creating jobs. Already, there has been huge job loss in the informal sector including the MSEs. These jobs will take some more months to be back again. Already there is jobless growth in the economy and during the NDA rule, there has been more loss of jobs than growth. This needs massive investments including public investment. The direction of the investment does not indicate that enough jobs could be generated in the remaining period of the NDA rule. After constantly talking about Make in India, this budget seems to have lowered the tone. Modi is a good event manager and he might have marketing skills to sell himself but that does not help the economy which needs economic wisdom and a long term perspective. He has been constantly talking about the poor but he has done little to repair the damage he has done to the rural economy through demonetisation. And now, without this repair and the absence of any strong job generation programme, the employment situation in 2017-18 will be more pathetic. There might be higher growth compared to the current fiscal but that will not lead to many additional jobs .This budget has no such foresight to create jobs for the unemployed./
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has commented after the budget presentation that that the aim of the Government is to double the income of the farmers and this budget empowers the women. Yes, some facilities have been given but that does not guarantee that the income will be doubled. The basic cause of the distress of the farmers has not been tackled and whatever measures have been announced, have been drafted with the objective of making them marketable in the poll battle. Both the BJP president Amit Shah and the Prime Minister worked on the imperatives in the Uttar Pradesh poll battle and how the voters can be wooed. The package for the agriculture sector is a follow up of that and this is certainly not going to befool the intelligent voters of UP who are now highly excited at the alliance of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress as a viable alternative to the BJP.
Prime Minister always took the position that the demonetisation will remove corruption and black money. That has not taken place since black money people do not keep illegal funds as cash for long. The move has to be accompanied by other measures which directly hit black money generation. The budget of 2017-18 could have paved the way for that but nothing has been announced. Only in respect of the political parties, the maximum amount of cash donation has been fixed at Rs. 2,000 from one source from the existing Rs. 20,000. This is a small measure compared to the dimension of the problem. All talk of bringing illegal funds from foreign countries have stopped and there is little activity in bringing out black money from the businessmen and others within the country. Prime Minister’s statement on Wednesday after that the budget reflects the government’s commitment to eliminate corruption and black money, makes no sense. There is no commitment, it is all talk and the PM’s public relations exercise.
This was the fourth budget of the NDA government under Narendra Modi and its importance was supreme for the BJP leadership in helping the Party in the coming assembly poll to the five states, especially Uttar Pradesh. It has been a big risk for Modi-Shah duo. The BJP leadership and the Government agencies are expected to go the wholehog in presenting the budget proposals as the best possible for the poor and the salaried middle class. There has been some relief for the salaried taxpayers but that relief won’t be sustained within the overall crisis that is expected to engulf the economy in 2017-18. If BJP and its allies lose in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, that will be the beginning of end of the Modi era. The Opposition led by the Congress, SP and the others will be in such a belligerent mood that it will be sheer impossible for the NDA government to run properly during the next twenty eight months till May 2019 Lok Sabha poll. The poll outcome will show whether this Modi-Jaitley budget played any role in deciding the outcome of assembly polls. (IPA Service)