The Game changer Budget

Shiban Khaibri
Realistic budget in real terms when compared to previous years and the high expectations from the people,  Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has replied to the avowed critics of the NDA government,  the Congress, the Communists, the Trinmolians and others as if saying, “You exhausted all of your stocks in trade of the choicest criticism but the much needed reforms and decisions, i. e; Demonetization, fight against black money and corruption and the GST regime promising long term gains have made the worm turn down and now I am replying to all your issues through this budget,  the penultimate one but never the last one of the NDA.” The Budget is with a fiscal discipline carved with policies and visions. Fiscal deficit projections are 3.3%. Disinvestment targets have not only been achieved but surpassed and a target of Rs. 80000 crore is fixed for this fiscal year. It is pro farmer, pro middle class budget and with focus on employment generation, women in particular. It is wide ranging in reaching to people mainly hitherto neglected ones. The IMF and the Economic survey tabled in the Parliament expected the economy to rebound and grow at 7 to 7.5%. In fact, the IMF is optimistic for our economy to grow at 7.5% next year.  The Finance Minister told the Parliament that we were on a track to grow at 8%.With expectations of capacities showing up, it could generate a surge in cumulative demand and cumulative supply as the focus is centered on MSMEs. This budget is  promoting cashless transactions and with a focus on science and research boosting . Tourism, new aircraft , new airports and using the ones not active, promoting Digital India in tune with global economy, 23% rise in Mudra financing to promote Macro enterprises, Railways network improvement , redevelopment of 600 major Railway stations etc are some of the major highlights of the Budget presented by Mr. Jaitlay. There is a pointed focus on rural stress and boosting the rural infrastructure with emphasis on connectivity with markets. The approach of resolving rural stress by applying patch work repair attitude has been done away with as this budget has no promise of any loan waiver lollypop or with providing any subsidies. Showing the courage to deflate the air bag of surmises of the opposition about the likely possibility of presenting a populist budget with an eye on 2019 very crucial general elections, it could safely be construed that it is a popular budget and never a populist budget. The Finance Minister needs to be congratulated for that as also the policy of the NDA Government. “Sab  Ka  Saath  Sab  Ka  Vikaas” is expected to be seen in true sense in this budget.
This budget has made the UPA’s MGNREGA  scheme  look like a dwarf in front of launching  of World’s largest Health Fund  scheme under a Health insurance  for 10 crore poor and vulnerable families   where each household stood to benefit to the extent of  Rs.5 lacs  per year . This scheme gets the traditional name of Aayushmaan Bharat Programme with an ambition of universal health care. A flagship scheme of no parallel heard or even suggested let alone proposed and implemented in any form and up to even a meager limit. Health has been given more consideration as 1 new medical college per three constituencies is proposed and 24 new medical colleges are planned to be opened. To fight the disease of tuberculosis, an amount of Rs. 600 crore has been planned to be spent. Healthy citizens make a country disease free and strong. To discourage open defecation, the Government has so far constructed 6 crore toilets and to make it cover the remaining areas, another 2 crore toilets are proposed to be built. As many as 4465 villages adjacent to Ganga River have been made “open defecation free” and more are in the offing. 187 new projects under cleaning of Ganga scheme are sanctioned.
There is a reasonably sufficient attention given to boost agriculture and agricultural income. The Finance Minister in his Budget speech said that the focus of the Government would be to provide maximum livelihood opportunities in rural areas by spending more on livelihood, agriculture and allied activities and construction of rural infrastructure for which nearly Rs. 15 lac crore from budgetary and non budgetary resources would be spent. 86% of farmers coming from marginal and small sector would be connected direct to markets to get adequate remuneration for their agricultural produce. Minimum support price  (MSP)  payment at 1.5 times of the cost of the production of the kharif crops and in case the crop  prices fell , a mechanism would be in place to ensure they got adequate remuneration. The agricultural credit stood at Rs. 11 lac crore for this fiscal. Rs. 2000 crore has been proposed for up gradation and improvement of 22000 rural markets. Additional Rs. 500 crore is proposed for “Operation Green” for providing agricultural logistics. Water for irrigation being the biggest challenge for agriculture, an amount of Rs. 2600 crore for irrigation facilities in 96 irrigation deprived Districts has been proposed. An amount of Rs. 10000 crore for fisheries, aqua culture and animal farming has been proposed. The importance of Bamboo trees has been underlined and a sum of Rs. 1290 crore has been proposed for “National Bamboo Mission”.
An amount of Rs.56, 619 crore for the S/C and Rs. 39135 crore for S/T welfare measures  in the year 2018-19 have been allocated , the highest so far. However, for mopping revenues, there are proposals of a 10% tax on long term capital gains. Also there shall be levied a  4%  cess of Health and Education. A proposal of 15% tax on shares held up to 1 year has been announced. Mobiles and imported TVs shall be costing more as a 20% customs duty is proposed to be levied. There is no tax relief for the salaried employees as a mismatch between the collection of income tax from salaried people with those from the professional areas analyzed with the number of tax payers could have come in the way and humped granting of some relief to salaried people.
There is , however, a good deal of relief for the senior citizens . Their earning of interest exemptions have been increased as many as 5 times from Rs.10000 to Rs.50000. A standard deduction of Rs.40000 from salary income to employees has been proposed but at the cost of transport, medical and other specified allowances. There will however be very little or marginal net gain but an increase of a cess from 3 to 4% may in fact neutralize any gain.  It may be recalled that the former FM Chidambaram had in 2005-06 had withdrawn this standard deduction, the amount deducted from the total annual salary before computation of income tax. Only a courageous FM can afford to do it when seen in the light of the ensuing general elections.
It could be expected that good governance was a pre requisite for achieving what has been projected in this budget thought of , planned, proposed , new schemes introduced, agriculture and the marginalized sections accorded due importance, focus laid on generation of employment through the informal sector and opportunities and more relaxations given in ease of doing business to encourage more FDI. Karnataka CM Siddaramaya calls it a “Visionless Budget” saying that for health, agriculture and social welfare there were “no funds allocation”. Chandrababu Naidu too has criticized it as some of his projects do not find a mention for budgetary allocation while Mumbai transport gets Rs.40000 crore. Was there a real need for the proposal of hike in the salaries and perks of the members of Parliament and linking their salaries to price index with provision of hike after every 5 years is left to the discretion of the people looking to the fact of how many hours and days of business were lost in both the houses. However, it is a courageous , game changer and popular Budget, a pro- Bharat Budget.