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View: High on rhetoric, with no hope for economic revival

With a crashing GDP, declining consumption and decreasing investments, the nation was expecting a visionary and futuristic budget that would revive business sentiment.

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Last Updated: Feb 02, 2020, 09.19 AM IST
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PTI
PTI

The economic slowdown of the current fiscal finds not even a mention by the FM, a clear indication that the Centre is neither willing to accept nor recognise the problems faced by the economy.

By Amarinder Singh

So what is in it for farmers, industry, defence, the poor and the marginalised, Ms Sitharaman? With a crashing GDP, declining consumption and decreasing investments, the nation was expecting a visionary and futuristic budget that would revive business sentiment, address the problems of farmers, pave the way for the much-needed employment generation and improve incomes. But the finance minister has disappointed once again, with an ill-conceived budget, which has nothing for the common man - the poor, the middle class, the farmer, or the small businessman and trader. It is clearly a budget high on rhetoric but without specifics, and promising no hope for India’s much-needed economic revival.

The economic slowdown of the current fiscal finds not even a mention by the Union finance minister, a clear indication that the Centre is neither willing to accept nor recognise the problems faced by the economy. Obviously, then, there was no question of the budget providing any solutions, and it has not done so! Ms Sitharaman spoke extensively on addressing the desires and needs of the aspirational Indian, but the budget has failed to fulfil even the basic aspirations and expectations of an average Indian. Despite searching hard among the plethora of schemes announced by the FM, I could not find one that offered some clarity on the way forward.

Farmers continue to be at the receiving end of this government’s apathy, with no concrete roadmap for doubling farmers’ income by 2022 — an ambitious target they had announced last year. As against a list of seven sources of income generation for farmers announced a year ago, the Centre has now come up with a 16-point action plan for agriculture, without a mention of the progress on the previous year’s agenda. And once again, the Centre has failed to address the problem of debt stress of farmers, which makes me wonder what magic wand they plan to wave to double the incomes in the next two years without alleviating their debts first! The absence of any initiatives or schemes to encourage crop diversification is also a matter of concern, as buffer stocks of food grain are already putting the states (including Punjab) and farmers under severe stress.

Though Rs 4,400 crore allocation has been made in the budget for clean air (a welcome step of course), it is lamentable that the Centre has no plan to check stubble burning, notwithstanding the critical proportions which the problem has attained, and the directives by the Supreme Court for urgent action. In fact, the budget offers no integrated approach to address environmental issues/climate change, suggesting that this is a subject that is not high on their list of priorities. The budget makes no attempt to address the concern of states, including Punjab, on the persistent and prolonged delays in release of GST compensation. Rather, the Centre has taken the easy way out by limiting GST collection to compensation cess instead of working on enhancing the compensation. Even the industry has little to cheer in this budget, with a meagre Rs 27,300 crore allocated for promotion of industry and commerce.

As for defence, unless I have misread the provisions, Ms Sitharaman, who has herself headed the defence ministry in the past, seems to have no idea of the defence needs of the country, which is surrounded by hostile neighbours. A bare 6% increase in the defence budget (minus pensions) can hardly be termed sufficient to meet the security needs of the country’s borders. In fact, the hike of Rs 10,340 crore for modernisation of the defence forces and purchase of new weapon systems can only be termed a joke.

And finally, closer home, no outlays have been announced for Punjab to celebrate the 550th anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the upcoming 400th celebration of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, or for the promotion of Sikh culture and heritage. The Union budget is, by all accounts, not designed to bring in the much-needed economic reforms, or raise public consumption. Evidently, economy is not a priority for this government, which is too busy pursuing another agenda.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)

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