BUDGET 2014 IS NOT A BANALITY BUT A BANDOBAST FOR DIRECTIONAL CHANGE-BY Shantonu Sen
The Finance Bill 2014 has been adopted in the Loksabha. The Finance Minister has spoken. The Budget is pro business is now out in the open. Before its adoption Modi maxim ” Minimum Government and maximum Governance” has been picked up by certain commentators to judge the outcome of Arun Jaitly’s maiden budget . One scribe has begun by assessing the impact of the Rs 200 crores gifted for the Statue of Unity. He has been very very disparaging. He then makes the point that Corporate Social Responsibility( CSR ) for slum development is akin to doling crumbs from Corporate dining tables to the slum dwellers without whom , among other things, smart city contemplated in the budget will come a cropper. He has summed up this first, NDA’s Budget as a carry over from UPA’s days. ” However well masked , its not a directional budget but like UPA’s, an exercise in bureaucratic banality over efficient delivery” says Partha Mukhopadhya in the Hindustan Times . ‘ We need a new imagination , a new beginning” he also says . Very strong words. In a way, this criticism is self invited as the written words in the Finance Minister’s speech is all official mumbo-jumbo minus that touch of political wit, wisdom and the wishes that almost all Finance Ministers, in living memory, have laced their budget speeches in the lower house.. Totally absent is that robust thrust which the Prime Minister invariably provides in his speeches whether out side the House or inside it. Amrinder Singh’s jibe of old wine in new bottles while replying to the President”s Address in the Loksabha was smilingly reduced to a joke with the pithy retort that its natural that he ( Amrinder Singh , scion of the Patiala House) will remember ” sharab” in the House.
All that apart there was a lot of substance in what the Finance Minisrer (F M ) said or rather wanted to say but most of it was lost in his style and language. He has relied for his Budget speech , entirely , on the mandarins sitting in their book lined chambers of the North Block. Haunted by their past they made it abundantly clear that much of what was earlier projected by their former boss P C Chidambram was a good thing and this Government will carry on with it. The F M swallowed that approach hook, line and sinker. Their , NDA’s, own critical references to NREGA, MNREGA, Food Bill,. Lok Pal, FDI in insurance notwithstanding all of this was in the Budget as a part of it and not to be junked. Even subsidies were not trifled with. The catalyst part of the budget has been mired by this bureaucratic jigsaw that so puzzeled the FM that he chose to go along with it as long as what he projected as a directional change was also a partof of his budget speech. Public Private Parnership ( PPP ) Corporate Social Responsibility ( C S R) Foreign Direct Investment ( F D I ) his flag bearers to boost the tired investment climate are a part of the budget. The commentators have missed their significance. They cannot be blamed as the FM appeared dependent on his juniors for his brief. He has has read the brief in the style and language placed before him without embellishing it with his own acute perceptive interventions. A master in law its child’s play for him to convert legal material of juniors to great deliveries as he orates in Court. Lacking that experience in matters of finance his tour-de- force on 1oth July was a trifle rusty.
The claim that this budget has directional changes is ingrained in several proposal. It is not idly or mindlessly made. The desire of his own roof of his fellow citizens is a passionate one and the rebate on income tax on Bank house loans to income tax payers will boost a housing growth. Savings instinct for an Indian is always powerful, almost instinctive and the F M has given it a platform; by amending the provision of 80c of the Indian Income Tax Act to allow larger savings for income tax purposes for all tax payers and more for senior citizens. Mutual Funds in debt equity in dividend mode will not attract any fresh tax as against those in growth mode. Dividends earned , whether quarterly or annually will be cash in hand and add to spending habits of the tax payer, some thing. essential to create opportunities and jobs. The new F M’s new mantra ” save and spend” will bear fruit. Thus the budget 2014 also becomes a bandobast to achieve a directional change. His reply to the Loksabha, his tweak on the Mutual Funds and his quiet confidence on bringing back Black Money are pointers to that end.
One meaningful mention that the Budget 2914 missed out on is judicial reforms. With 55000/ cases pending in the Supreme Court alone, 60 million of them in courts of India and only 12000/ or so courts in India , the FM, a lawyer himself, has let go an opportunity to boost development through judicial reforms.