Ritesh K Srivastava
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee deserves appreciation for presenting a pro-people budget, and that too at a time when the economy is traversing through a bad phase, still trying to ward-off the negative sentiments unleashed by the global economic slowdown.
No doubt that by presenting a “green budget”, the veteran politician has once again proved his mettle, and the fact that he is probably one of the most indispensable leaders of the UPA regime, next only to the PM himself.
The seasoned politician did a commendable job of restoring New Delhi’s pride and self-esteem at the international level, while serving as a Foreign Minister, and this time also as a Finance Minister he has proved that he is not only the jack of all trades but a master in his own right.
Although the big wigs of the Indian Incorporation have hailed the “inclusive budget” as a “positive” and “realistic” one, it has left millions of ordinary Indians like me still debating whether it was a “good one” or a “routine budget”.
And I have my own logic to think so, since the success and failure of any budget presented by any government is measured by its impact on the lives of the common people, who are directly or indirectly affected by it.
At the end of the day, a layman is only concerned with cheap and easy availability of essential commodities, low-cost services and increased income.
The bottom line for most of our brethren inarguably remains whether the populist budget presented by the Finance Minister has the power to bring a remarkable change in their lives or not. However, contrary to that, most of the times, the budget falls flat on the people’s expectations and fails to meet the general perception.
This is true also as it is not practically possible for the FM to meet everyone’s demand and give “things desired” on a platter.
Keeping in line with his predecessor, P Chidambaram, Pranab dada unveiled a budget, which offered sops for all.
The best part of the budget was that it addressed people’s expectations and focussed on economic stability and sustained growth coupled with optimism. In his budget speech, the veteran politician promised to achieve a growth rate of 9%, which is not an invincible goal.
The USD 204-billion annual budget also presents a roadmap to reduce the fiscal deficit from 6.2% to somewhere near 2% and allocates more funds for welfare schemes, infrastructure, highways, railways, urban renewal, irrigation, health care, power sectors, education and employment.
The Finance Minister also acknowledged the aspirations of the country’s expanding middle class, as he raised the income tax exemption limit and removed the surcharge on personal income above Rs 10 lakhs annually, thereby bringing more money into the hands of the salaried class.
While laying emphasis on infrastructure development, the Finance Minister has preferred for Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model.
Another piece of good news for the Indian Incorporation was the removal of Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT), which will pump in more money and encourage savings, investments and spending that would help the economy in the long run.
Even though the Indian Inc gave a thumbs up to Mukherjee`s Budget proposals, the industry big-wigs were a bit disappointed as they expected some more tax sops. This was evident as the country’s benchmark, BSE Sensex, responded negatively to the Budget proposals and fell by nearly 870 points or 5.8%.
The Budget also stopped short of clearing doubts over government’s point on disinvestment in state-run PSUs and Navratnas and opening up of the insurance sector. Though, Pranab da clearly ruled out privatisation of state run PSUs, he has not given clear signals as to whether the government would sell its present stake in state-run companies.
Another highlight of the Budget was Mukherjee’s announcement to expand the ambit of the highly acclaimed National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP), increasing the wages paid under the scheme and giving a major thrust to the agricultural sector.
The Finance Minister also fulfilled UPA government’s electoral promise to provide 25/kg of rice or wheat at Rs 3/kg to the absolute poor so as to ensure that the fruits of development reach the most neglected, the most deprived and the most underprivileged sections too.
The 73-year-old politician, who delivered his budget proposal in a non-flashy style and in a thick Bengali-accent, was no less impressive than P Chidambaram, who took advantage of country’s economic growth and succeeded in weaving a dream using his oratory skills that nobody doubted.
Unlike Chidambaram, whose budget emphasis was mostly on the urban India, the Finance Minister this time focused on strengthening the rural sector and uplifting of millions of those who dwell in the villages.
At this juncture, a comparison between Pranab and his predecessor Chidambaram will be futile, given the backdrop of global economic meltdown and the most challenging circumstances arising out of it.
So, as a Finance Minister, dada seems to have done a great job and deserves kudos for his renewed commitment to "inclusive growth and equitable development" while meeting the "rising expectations of a young India".
The government now needs to bridge the widening fiscal deficit, which is further expected to increase up to 6.8% in FY10 and dispel a spell of uncertainty and pessimism from the Indian industry.