Monday, December 11, 2023

Square pegs in a round hole

By Abhijit Roy

Nirmala Sitharaman was the first woman Finance Minister to present a Budget in Parliament and the first to break yet another glass ceiling. On that count, she needs to be commended. But did her budget deliver? After all, India needs to perk up its economy to get local manufacturing going as well as boost its services so that the hundred million plus youth, who are expected to join the workforce over the next decade, can find gainful employment. Finance Minister�s maiden Budget, coming with an ambitious call for a $5 trillion economy, is a lacklustre exercise filled with slogans and devoid of solutions. It aims to create wealth without giving any scope for creating employment. There is no proposal to reduce the rich-poor gap and bring about more equitable distribution of resources. The call for Public-Private Partnership in Railways is a move to bring the sector into the fold of private entities in due course. A streamlining of labour laws will enthuse the investors but do nothing to satisfy the working class. A disinvestment target of ?1,05,000 crore will hasten the extinction of Public Sector Undertakings, which are the people�s asset. This is a budget for the rich and offers nothing to the common man. From levying an additional surcharge on the super-rich to empowering the poor, from providing Rs 70,000-crore capital to public sector banks to spending Rs 100 lakh crore on infrastructure in the next five years � the first Budget of the Modi 2.0 government covers a lot of ground. However, it is disappointing that a stable and strong dispensation, formed after a thumping win in the Lok Sabha elections, hasn�t been able to come up with an ambitious and enterprising roadmap to achieve the ultimate goal. �Ease of doing businesses and �ease of living� should apply to farmers too, but there is no blueprint in sight to bail out the beleaguered community. Doubling farmers� income by 2022, the BJP�s lofty promise that dates back to 2014, remains a distant dream. Apparently short of fresh ideas, the government plans to replicate �zero budget� farming, which has been adopted in Karnataka and some other southern states. The back-to-basics approach involves zero credit for agriculture and no use of chemical fertilisers. The intention might be noble and eco-friendly, but it would be a Herculean task to implement such farming across a country with vast geographical and agricultural diversity.

(Columnist Abhijit Roy can be reached at 9204618947)

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