Annual Government Budget has been a political show for years together but over a period it has lost its sheen and it is less of a show. When India became an independent nation, budgeting process had to be started. India as a whole, had never been a sovereign country before independence. In 1947 November, India’s first budget was presented. Of course, India was a poor country then and even now the large majority of the people are poor. But over a period, India started many industries, services, IT services was a major proponent of growth. India has a large number of farmers and farming sector, even today, it engages largest number of people. With the rapid growth in various sectors, India’s GDP is in top five nations in the world, though its per capita income is still very low, due to large population.
As expected, India had a great difficulty in budgeting as there was nothing much in the kitty. Balancing the budget was a great art and there was always a conflict in budgetary allocations. Naturally, we started with education, India opted for large public-sector industries, big dams to help farming and to generate electricity. Then there was war with China in 1962, Pakistan 1965 & 1971 and one in 1947. With these wars, allocation started going more towards arms and ammunition. Factories were built to produce war material. Like any poor household, this strategy put stress on other sectors like agriculture, education. Private manufacturing was looked down upon and the industrialists were looked down upon as profiteers. Profit was a cuss word in those days, hence there was permit Raj and there were limits on the quantity of goods that could be manufactured. This type of thinking always led to scarcities and shortages. This further led to hoarding and black marketing. Added to this was political turmoil of 80’s. I think Bajaj Auto was the first company who challenged the government and said we will produce more scooters than the capacity, let us see what you do!
Since last ten years things have improved in India’s finances. Money is around and governments are trying to be prudent about allocations. Making a large country like India modern in science & technology, engineering, transportation, farming and defense is not a joke. Another important area is digitalization of the nation. Huge allocations are required for all these sectors.
There is a large middle class, rich class, and biggest class is the poor class. Other than allocations for various sectors mentioned, the poor class needs to be supported in such a way that they become self-sufficient over a period of time. Other two classes have the where withal of taking care of themselves with or without Government support. This is what the government has done in the current budget. Poor will not be helped by dole or subsidies. But government actions may help this group in the most difficult areas, handling medical expenses.
Government has proposed a medical insurance scheme which will cover 100 million people in next couple of years. This scheme will cover a family of 5, for Rs.5/ lacs each. This means that 500 million people will come under the scheme. Illnesses have been one of the major factors that have ruined poor families’ finances. This scheme can take care of expenses during illnesses. Cynics will talk about difficulty to implement such schemes etc. Have you heard of something called Aadhar lately? Aadhar will be perfect tool to launch such an ambitious scheme.
There is one more decision that will help millions of farmers. Government has covered 23 different items where farmers will get higher than today’s assured purchase price. This will help farmers, hopefully, from their current financial difficulties. There will be discussion why item A is not under the scheme but B is under the scheme. But this discussion is natural as everyone will be interested in his own well-being. But it is about people who are poor!
But I see people like you and me cribbing that Income Tax slabs have not been improved. Come on we pay taxes; the majority who need help are those who don’t pay taxes! We worry that deduction against money spent on medical insurance is not increased. Difference is we are able to buy our own insurance, there are millions who can’t even buy it. People are worried that iPhone, diamonds will become costly, Mercedes will be costly. Can these be even subjects for discussions? Every group of people want their pie to be improved. All want Indian cities to look like foreign cities. Only GDP increase does not do this. There should be minimum people below poverty line in any nation. Budgets now should now try and achieve this. For this all have to work together and support the Government whether it is formed by Party A or Party B! Let political parties play the blaming game; it is their business but why you and I should be party to this? Let them treat it as a game show in the Loksabha or outside the Loksabha!
Another thing I have observed post budget this time, is the proliferation of “Experts” being interviewed by newspapers. Since when students, housewives start giving Stars to the budget? Are they even one star in their knowledge about budget? Ask finance guys, ask people from industry, ask people in the know of it. They should be giving an overall opinion. Many real experts have opined about the effect of budget on their areas of work. Their remaining comments were general comments and not sweeping ones. What do the newspapers achieve by asking such a wide spectrum and asking them to give “Stars”? If by chance somebody had come to interview me, I would have 100% said, ” No comments! I am no expert in national budgeting”.
Our nation is now on auto pilot for growth of GDP because of actions by successive governments. Now our budgets are what they should be, declaration of intents, allocation of funds to the priority sectors as visualized by the government in power. Let us make sure that this does not become lopsided; help poor to come out of their quagmire. Super rich will become richer without budgetary support. You and I should stop cribbing about vegetables being a little costlier, tur dal being a bit expensive. Sky is not going to fall if income tax deduction percentage is not improved. We want better India, smarter India and cleaner and neater India; let us make it all inclusive improvement. There could a little pain for a few groups, bearing it is tough, cribbing is simple. You decide what you want to do. Jaihind!