Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Lack-Lustre budget


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Prima facie, the interim budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has failed to enthuse the nation. The nearly hour-long speech in Parliament was devoted principally to trumpet the Modi government’s achievements, to which was superimposed some plans for the future as in the case of railways, infrastructural development and the like. Sitharaman cannot be blamed though. This government has no more than three months of existence, and would be in the lame duck mode after the end of this Budget session. Elections are at the doorstep and even the most-optimistic party cannot be sure as to who would win. Admittedly, the election system here is functioning on proper lines. The win for the opposition in states is proof of the strength of the electronic voting system.
Those who expected a fresh relief in terms of a raise in income tax levels were disappointed. The present levels would continue while corporate taxes have been brought down from 30 to 22 per cent. This reduction would be a boost to the investment climate. Significantly, direct tax collections have more than doubled in the past 10 years, while GST, or the ‘one nation, one tax’ system that unified the markets, has been a huge draw. Market reforms set in motion during the Manmohan Singh era and carried forward to their successful conclusion have also paid rich dividends in terms of revenue for the national exchequer as also state coffers. Sitharaman has asserted that the earnings thereof have been “wisely” used – meaning not squandered or looted. Admittedly, corruption at the level of ministers of the Union Cabinet is now unheard of even as the ruling dispensation is organising huge funds from National Highways and other contracts possibly for running the party’s election machinery. Three railway economic corridors are promised to boost logistics efficiency while the promise is also to roll out 40,000 modern bogies in the coming years on the lines of Vande Bharat. A boost to the tourism sector is envisaged, with an offer of interest-free loans to states for development of this sector.
The budget speech has made a special mention of the population bulge. The reference to the formation of a high-power panel to submit a report on ways to check this drift could also be linked to the plans to introduce the Uniform Civil Code, a pet agenda of the RSS-BJP parivar. This is certainly a national cause as unbridled growth in population would hurt social well-being and the national economy. More so as the government is “feeding” the nation’s poor. But this could also be interpreted as an attempt to target the Muslims. The government must take all segments of the population into confidence in such endeavours.


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