Random Reflections

The Godi media which had been asking for opinions from people on what is needed from the budget has forgotten the wishes of people and showering encomium on the Finance Minister who has made the budget a Joke. She did act like a joker during the presentation repeating Amrit Kaal and many other Hindi terms which people from the South don’t understand. Amrit kaal is a dream heaven after 25 years it seems. What is needed as per the wishes of the people are:

  1. Tax the rich
  2. Create Employment 
  3. Improve Agriculture by providing MSP and input subsidies.
  4. Provide Education free by allocating 6% of GDP for education.
  5. Increase allotment to MGNREGA and start Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme.
  6. Provide more funds for Health and Family welfare and improve Govt hospitals.
  7. Allot more funds for Public Sector.
  8. Increase expenditure on Gender Budget.
  9. Take real steps to avert disasters due to climate change
  10. Take steps to bring down income and wealth inequality.

In all this, what the Modi Government has done is nothing in the budget except eyewash.
The Prime Minister announced that the whole world is looking for our Budget and it will be a development budget. Now the whole world is laughing at us due to his close friend.

Disinvestment slowed down due to people’s resistance
Trade Union, Peoples Movements like Jan Sarokar, People First a platform of Trade Unions, People’s Movements and retired Civil Servants, People’s Commission on Public Sector and Public Services. Financial Action Network and Civil Society have been doing their Campaign to strengthen Public Sector.
The Govt was in a different mood. Govt has no business to be in business; Public Sector was born to die; the Private Sector is efficient was their mantra.
In 2021 they announced a disinvestment target of Rs. 1.75 trillion. This was revised to Rs 78000 Cr in the revised estimate whereas the actual proceeds were Rs 13627 Cr.
For 2022 the original estimate was Rs 65000 Crores now revised to Rs 50000 crores and actuals as on 1st Feb 2023 is Rs 31106 Cr out of which Rs 20576 Cr came from disinvestment of 3.5% of shares of LIC @ Rs 950 which is now trading at Rs 594 only.
Target fixed for 2024 is Rs 51000 Cr.
The Govt has seen the resistance and now going slow anticipating a loss of Parliament seats in 2024. In case if they come back to power they will go ahead with Privatisation in full swing.

The budget should be a report card of what was promised earlier, what has been achieved and what is planned for the future. But this budget is only selling dreams and claiming what is not due to it. What happened to Rs 100 lakh Crore infrastructure development fund? Doubling farmer’s income by 2022? Housing for all by 2022? Two crore employment per year? Agri Rail network? Pension Scheme for small and marginal farmers? Complete irrigation throughout the country? Short-term loan of Rs 1 lakh to farmers at 0% interest? Rs 1 lakh Crore for higher education? Atal Tinkering lab at every block? All Rail routes to be broad gauge by 2022? Electrification of all tracks by 2022? All Railway stations to have WIFI? Dedicated freight corridor by 2022? 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres? Clean Ganga by 2022? Doctor population 1:1400? Double export? National Traders welfare fund? PM and FM may forget. People won’t. Media said this is the last full budget. This may be the last budget of the BJP.

Tax the Rich
The Oxfam report has pointed out that 10% of the top pay 6 times less GST than 50% of the bottom population. People anticipated taxing the rich to fulfill the goals of the constitution to bring down inequality. Increasing income tax for the top 10%, reintroducing wealth tax increasing Corporate tax and bringing inheritance tax many countries have done it. But instead, GST on food items also remain high. GST income is more than that of Income tax. No reduction in taxes on petrol & diesel. With the new tax regime, one will pay more than what he or she was already paying and a huge gift has been given to the rich by reducing surcharge from 37% to 25%. Tax revenues raised but not realised given as Annexure -5 is Rs.15.8 lakh crores.
GIFT city Gujarat is becoming a tax haven and getting so much of funds at the cost of other states.

The largest employment can be provided by the government and the public sector. But there is no effort for that. Public employment in Cuba is 77%, Russia 40%, UK 21.5%, US 13.3%, China 28 %, Brazil 12.3%, and Argentina 16.9% whereas in India it is only 3.5%. There is no effort to increase this.

Agriculture and the consumers (all of us) have been burdened by this budget. Food subsidy has been reduced to Rs1.97 lakh Cr from Rs 2.87 lakh Cr (Revised estimate – RE). The fertilizer subsidy has been reduced to Rs 1.75 lakh Cr from Rs 2.25 lakh Cr. So many schemes have been announced without an adequate budget. PM Kissan allocation is down by 11.76% Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana by 31%, Krishi Sinchai yojana by 17%, Krishonnati yojana by 2%, Crop Insurance reduced by 12%. The increase in Kissan Credit Card target is not Govt money. It is a bank loan. It is only a renewal of KCC with accrued interest. No cash reaches the hands of the farmer. MSP is not talked about at all.

Education allotment is increased by a meagre amount and it’s not going to have any improvement in Education. Allocation for Education empowerment scheme has been reduced by 33% and the National Education mission by 2%.

NREGA allocation has been cut from Rs 89000 crore(RE) which itself is not adequate and has been reduced to  RS 60000 Cr affecting the rural poor and no urban employment guarantee scheme has been announced.

Health and family welfare has been ignored by reducing allocation for the midday meal scheme by 9.4%, and nutrient scheme by 38% and the total budget has not been increased much.

The budget for investment in PSUs has been reduced by 16% instead of increasing it. Though Railway has been allocated Rs.2.41 lakh crores the National Rail Plan has been ignored. Roads get much more but rail travel and transport of goods will be cheaper for people. Already tender for Rs 56000 Cr has been floated to outsource production of Vande Bharat trains which ICF is doing well.

Gender Budget and Minorities
The gender budget is only 9%. The allocation for the maternity benefit scheme, Matru vadhana Yojana has been cut by Rs 40.15 crore. The umbrella programme for the development of minorities has been cut by 66 %.

Climate Change
There is no real effort to address climate change except funds for batteries for electric vehicles. Converting municipal waste to bio gas has not been successful anywhere.

Income inequality and PSBs
The income inequality can be brought down by providing more credit to the poor and middle class through more PSB branches, more staff and more targets for small credit but no effort is seen. But an amendment to RBI Act, Banking Regulation act and Banking Companies act has been proposed, the details of which are not known. Removing tax exemptions on LIC policies above Rs 5 lakhs will affect LIC which is the only good social security scheme for the lower-income group.
So the budget is a cruel joke on the majority but it has given many benefits to the rich in taxes and by not taxing the rich. This is in spite of a debt of Rs 169.46 lakh crores which has led to 20% of the income going toward Interest Payment alone. The crisis in Sri Lanka and Pakistan is staring at us.

Thomas Franco is the former General Secretary of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation and a Steering Committee Member at the Global Labour University.

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