The king must make arrangements for Yogakshema (welfare) of the populace by abandoning any laxity and by governing in line with dharma, along with collecting taxes which are in consonance with the dharma. –(Budget :FY 2022)
Gopikrishnan V and K Krishna Priya
Mrs. Nirmala Sitaraman started off the budget proceedings with this famous quote from Bhagavad Gita. It is unclear if the Finance Minister is hinting that the country is ruled by a ‘King’. The 90-minute-long speech by Mrs. Sitaraman unveiled the budget which is expected to set the stage for India’s vision for the next 25 years, as proclaimed by the PM in his speech delivered on Independence day.
Primarily, the fourth budget presented by Mrs. Sitaraman is well organised with a stronger emphasis on a slow paced, yet sustainable growth that focuses on reviving the economy that was hardly hit by the pandemic. The adequate stress given to the four pillars of productivity, financial investments, climate action and PM Gati Shakti plan plainly put the economy, growth and ecological competitiveness in conjunction. Financial budget has also kept more weightage on capital infrastructure which is quintessential for a growing economy like India in the long run. The ambition is too apparent when the minister addressed the infrastructure and logistical dimensions catering to the areas of agriculture, manufacturing and transit.
The farmers protest seems to have spurred the government to look after the interests of India’s largest employment absorbing sector, i.e agriculture. An assured income of 2.37 lakh crore has been allocated for the direct payments of the Minimum Support Prices of wheat and paddy. This, if implemented properly could help the farmers to ease down their nerves a bit. Adequate funds have been kept aside to strengthen chemical free organic farming across the country. At the same time, we should not forget the fact that the overall share of the agricultural sector has been reduced to 3.84 to 4.25 compared to last year.
The current budget was expected to address the social sector in a much more nuanced fashion and thereby enhancing human development outcomes amidst the economic crisis that strangles the commons of the country. However, the government seemed to prioritise meeting its fiscal deficit targets. Employment centred and inclusive growth have been carefully discarded.
However, one could not refrain from being silent to the fact that there has been a significant complacency in putting outlays on the health sector, rural development and employment guarantee scheme to tackle unemployment. The lessons from the pandemic seem not good enough to push the government to strengthen the public health infrastructure which is seriously condemnable.The government has pushed for the country’s mental health with the launching of ‘National Tele Mental Health programme’ which aims to bring welcome relief to a mass populace that is struggling to keep up the spirits in the wake of breakdowns and the hopelessness due to consequent lockdown and isolation. 23 tele health centres have been approved to be set up in the country. However, one should not deny the fact that India lacks a proper framework for the promotion of mental health in general. The government’s investment on health care should have been greatly boosted, with the insights gained from the current pandemic’s first two phases highlighting the necessity for a major expansion of public health infrastructure. The National Health mission received only a 7.4 % increase over the money compared to last year. This is far from satisfying the growing need to strengthen primary health care at both rural and urban levels. Besides, we should also not turn blind eye to augmenting the Urban Health Mission which has made little progress so far.
The Union Budget has very few or no investments made for women. By placing programs for children beside those for women, the government has once again emphasised that women bear the primary burden for child care. Furthermore, the budget was hesitant to address strategies to reduce the alarming levels of domestic violence and sexual assault prevalent across the country. Moreover, just like the other financial budgets in the past, no provisions have been laid down to decimate the gender inequality that is pervasive throughout the country.
The government has decided to open up Defence R & D (Research and Development) for startups, private sector, and academics. Now, the private sector has a considerable stake in the design and development of military platforms and infrastructure. The state believes that by increasing earning and efficiency, it will be able to reach its deficit target. However, critics claim that the government is attempting to enable back-door access to corporates in the defence sector. Given recent events, one would be concerned about the implications of private invasions in the defence sector. India has nine public-sector defence enterprises, and the government owns the vast majority of the country’s indigenous defence production.
Learning has now been defined with claustrophobic spaces and digital divide which is unbecoming for a country like India. Rather than lifting the ante by allocations on schools to expand their infrastructure so as to bring back children to schools by keeping all the necessary precautions in place, the government has stressed on ‘The one class one TV channel’ which is pulling the whole process of education backward. The setting up of digital universities doesn’t seem to get to grips with the growing digital divide which further widens the gap between the rich and the poor. A complete disconnect with the situation also seems to be evident when there aren’t any provisions to fill numerous vacancies of teaching staff which are left unfilled.
The tax slabs remain unchanged giving no respite for the middle class and the salaried in spite of the growing inflation and covid hit household budgets. Mrs. Sitaraman noted that the government has kept inflation in check and incentives are put aside to encourage micro, small and medium enterprises and introduced affordable housing projects that could eventually help the middle class. “There are times when you can give [relief], there are times when it will have to wait a bit longer,” she remarked. However the wait could be indefinite in these tough times.
No funds have been allocated for replacing the teleprompter in the PMO.
To sum up, the budget looks promising at places but falls short of going back and addressing the concerns of people from the roots. The government has mostly overlooked the middle class, which has suffered significantly as a result of job losses and increasing health-care spending, which has depleted their savings. The taxpaying middle class will be disappointed, but the economy is “envisioned” to benefit in the future. We must be practical enough to understand that the colourful future that the government looks forward to is indicative of a present that has lost its charm. The licence to dream has always been there forever and it is inherent in the financial budget 2022.
Let’s take a sigh and introspect the numerous ‘envisions’ that the country has been witnessing from the past, specifically from November 8, 2016.
1)Sravan M.K , MA Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
2)Anne Mary Shaju, MA History, University of Delhi
3)Swarnim Pandey, National Law university, Lucknow