Indian Union Budget 2016: Focus on state elections!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Even as Indian and Pakistani cricket teams were seemingly making joint efforts in Bangladesh to reach the final to let India shine eventually in t20 as part of so-called world cup in t20 in the night (just 5 teams are allowed to play: 4 South Asian teams India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and hopeless UAE participating), Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented the BJP government’s Union Budget 2016 on February 29 morning, making it appear to be pro-poor.
For India cricket match is as good as budget making and the Indian finance minister Jaitley was earlier an important BCC boss. Indian FM Jaitley, pitching now for economic growth, hailed the Indian economy’s big strides.
The Modi government unveiled a fire-fighting budget that seeks to win back support among rural voters for Modi’s government and sustain growth against a grim global backdrop – all without borrowing more. Jaitley claims India’s growth has accelerated to 7.6% in 2015-16 notwithstanding contraction of global exports. He said India’s growth is extraordinarily high. “Our external situation is robust, CAD has declined to $14.4 billion this year, will be 1.4% of GDP at the end of fiscal. CPI inflation has also come down to 5.5% from 9.4% in the last three years”.
Jaitley described his three priorities as: strengthening India’s firewalls by ensuring macroeconomic stability and prudent fiscal management; driving growth through domestic demand; and reforms to boost economic opportunity. Key areas of policy focus would be farming, social reforms, infrastructure and recapitalizing India’s banking system
With state elections coming on their way this year, the Modi government feels the state governments take all credits for schemes and mega projects launched by central government and it is eager to pitch for full credit for its programs and the budget would stress that all major projects in states are in fact BJP government’s.
Arun Jaitley’s third budget marked a strategic shift by addressing rural distress in a country of 1.3 billion, where two-fifths of families rely on farming and are reeling from two years of drought. Jaitley reeled off a list of $16 billion in measures targeted at the countryside, including spending on a job creation scheme, farmers’ welfare and building of rural roads. He also targeted a total of $130 billion in credit to farmers.
Jaitley laid out plans to electrify all Indian villages by 1 May 2018 and allocated Rs 8,500 crore for rural electrification in fiscal 2017. As in every year, the agriculture credit target has been increased to Rs 9 lakh crore from Rs 8.5 lakh crore. It offered a fine blueprint of several small steps to lift India’s villages and encourage small entrepreneurs but failed to impress on NDA-government’s big challenge of taking ahead the reforms process and aggressive infrastructure spending needed to lift the economy to a high growth path. At the same time it hiked public investment in India’s woeful infrastructure by 22.5 percent, while taking further steps to revive corporate investment that Modi needs to create new jobs for India’s burgeoning workforce.
Jaitley called Asia’s third-largest economy a bright spot in a gloomy global landscape, and reiterated a false forecast that it would grow by 7.6 percent in the fiscal year that is drawing to a close. But, despite hefty commitments on rural welfare and health, Jaitley managed to stick to his fiscal deficit target of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product for the 2016/17 fiscal. Rural demand is weak, private investment is dead in the water and, of course, we have a banking crisis
Jaitley said the government wanted to ensure that the benefits of growth are more widely shared among India’s 1.3 billion people and he unveiled pro-poor budget to placate voters, pledges reforms Finance Minister Arun Jaitley unveiled a budget for the poor, announcing new rural aid and health programmes in a strategy shift that could boost his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in coming state elections.
Apparently, the Modi government has spared the common man, has not added more burdens on common masses in the budget. More taxes would certainly have meant popular crisis. At first glance, Budget 2016 is naturally more a Modi budget, than a statement of purpose from Jaitley. Packed with several small-steps initiatives but lacking major bold steps to undertake much needed reforms.
India holds several state elections this year, including in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, with the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, going to the polls in 2017. A strong showing will be vital to Modi’s chances of a second term. Despite commanding a large majority in parliament’s lower house, Modi’s government has failed to pass several key measures since sweeping to power almost two years ago, raising doubts over the impact of its reform agenda.
After BJP’s losses in Delhi and Bihar elections, govt put emphasis on social sector, farmers and rural India. The themes– poor, farmers and women–which had been gaining accent in Modi’s speeches in recent months, resounded in the budget, blunting the blitzkrieg of the Congress led by its vice-president Rahul Gandhi calling the NDA a “suit-boot ki sarkar”.
The Union Budget 2016 bore PM Modi’s imprint rather than that of his finance minister, Arun Jaitley. Among budget highlights, FM Jaitley announced 1% excise duty to be levied on all articles of jewellery except silver. This means silver prices are going to remain unchanged. Government will increase ATMs, micro-ATMs in post offices in next three years. Government announced deduction for rent paid to be raised to Rs 60,000 to Rs 20,000 to benefit those living in rented houses. People who don’t have any houses of their own or don’t get house compensation from employers get rebate of Rs 24,000 per annum. Ceiling of tax rebate for taxpayers with up to Rs 5 lakh annual income to be raised to Rs 5000 from Rs 2000 currently; Daily working hours and weekly hours for employees of malls and small shops will be regulated. For first time home buyers will be levied for loans up to Rs 35 lakh for property not exceeding Rs 50 lakh.
The major highlight of the budget was Jaitley’s big push on agriculture and rural India. For rural development he announced a package of Rs 87,765 crore in fiscal year 2017 as against Rs 79,526 crore. That apart, Jaitley announced a subsidy scheme for BPL families for cooking gas and said the government targets to double the income of farmers by 2020 and Rs 2,000 crore for new LPG connections. Jaitley allocated Rs 35,984 crore for the farming sector, Rs 86,500 crore on irrigation for five years, and Rs 15,000 crore interest for agricultural loans.
Jaitley promised that there “won’t be compromise” on the spending side, announcing a 11 percent increase to Rs 19.78 lakh crore in fiscal 2017 from Rs 17.77 lakh crore BE year before. Of this, plan expenditure is up by 15 percent to Rs 5.5 lakh crore and non-plan expenditure increased by 9 percent to Rs 14.28 lakh crore. But the government lowered its spending on the infrastructure segment. For fiscal year 2017, Jaitley allocated Rs 55,000 crore for roads and highways.
The Economic Survey announced on a week ago, ahead of the budget, spelled out the first priority for Jaitley to deal with in the budget — ensure that growth momentum is on. This is because the current environment is fraught with risks, which threaten all the engines of India’s growth. For fiscal year 2017, Jaitley announced a fiscal deficit target of 3.5 percent and for the fiscal year 2016, the fiscal deficit target has been met at 3.9 percent. This news could make the rating agencies, investors and the RBI happier since there was immense pressure on the government to stick to the fiscal consolidation roadmap.
The BJP government has set a disinvestment target of Rs 56,500 crore for fiscal year 2017 as against Rs 69,500 crore for fiscal year 2016. Of this Rs 56,500 crore, Rs 36,000 crore is through the sale of stake in state-run companies and the rest through strategic sales. In the last year, as against the target of Rs 69,500 core, the government managed to raise only Rs 18,421 crore (from sale of stake in six PSUs) on account of lukewarm market conditions.
For fiscal year 2017, Jaitley announced a capital infusion of Rs 25,000 for government-banks, which was part of the Rs 70,000 crore announced for five years last year
However, Finance minister Jaitley has failed so far to get hold of the root of the problems that has engulfed India’s Rs 95 trillion banking industry. Jaitley’s banking sector strategy fell short of what was needed to revive state-run banks. The bad loan crisis in the banking sector has severely constrained the ability of the banks to fund long-gestation infrastructure projects.
Modi’s change of course seeks to prevent a repeat of the fate of the Vajpayee government led by his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose relentless optimism – summed up by its “India Shining” slogan – grated with voters who dispatched it after one term in 2004.
The spending package marks a radical shift from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initial focus on investing in infrastructure in a bid to kick-start private-sector investment that remains weak. Making a strategic turn in its priorities from industry to the under-privileged, the political message was lucid. The BJP, which faced humiliating defeats in the Bihar and Delhi, underlined the budget’s emphasis on social sector, farmers, rural India and poor.
The Opposition rejected the budget, dubbing it as a political budget which has nothing to give impetus to three engines of growth– agriculture, private investment and exports.
The shift in the government’s economic script was forseeable. Modi has held four farmers rallies across the country over the past month even as he has been underlining the need to focus on “antyodaya”, the last man in the queue.
In his third budget, Jaitley described the country’s 120 million farmers as the “backbone of the country’s food security” and promised to double their income in five years. He also said government would increase spending on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA), a scheme brought by the UPA regime offering 100 days of employment to villagers. He announced providing BPL families with LPG connections with subsidy, an echo of the Prime Minister’s concern about women whose eyes watered while cooking on chullahs. Announcing government’s commitment towards rural electrification, he assured 100 per cent village electrification by May, 2018.
Besides fiscal consolidation, the focus of the budget has been on infrastructure, which has even been acknowledged by the Opposition. The total outlay on the infrastructure is Rs2, 21,246 crore. For building or renting houses, there are tax benefits and for the first time home buyer the deduction for interest paid on home loan has been raised by Rs50,000 a year.
Former finance minister P Chidambaram refuted the government’s claim that the budget was pro-farmer. “The crucial signal in agriculture sector is the price. Last year, I think the farmers were cheated.. I would have expected that the price signal is given clearly to the farmers. Immediately it is the prices signal that enthuse the farmers. One of the reasons for acute distress in rural India is that the farmers are not getting fair and remunerative prices for their produce,” he said. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the budget will “create greater economic inequalities, reduced purchasing power, was not growth oriented and appeased international capital more than meeting people’s requirements.”
The 2016 budget, a big test for Jaitley, was a tough balancing act between the fiscal consolidation and much-needed spending to revive growth in the economy, especially in the face of rising investor-pessimism on the rise, which has risked Modi’s task of reviving the economy. Jaitley committed to the fiscal consolidation path, but failed to impress by setting aside enough funds to push ahead the infrastructure growth and address the banking sector woes.
In the past, the delays in project implementations have resulted in huge cost-over runs to companies. The corporate sector will eagerly look for measures that can ease their burden, especially in the infrastructure projects.
One should note that Jaitley’s big task remains making sure the engines of economic growth aren’t failing. This year, the increase in infra spending is merely Rs 30,000 crore as against Rs 70,000 crore last year, which isn’t so encouraging at this stage of economic growth.
There are certainly ifs and buts in budgets presented by governments with a lot of predictions and lies. The parliamentarians, even while debating the budgets, are enjoying their stay in the Houses. How much of what is said in the budget would be implemented by Modi government remains to be seen.
Meanwhile one fails to understand as to why do many strong teams (like West Indies, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, England, etc have not participated in the so-called t20 world cup. Have they left the cup for India to decide? Are they afraid of India? One can understand why Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and even Pakistan big powers also want to serve India? How come all these big powers like UK and Australia are scared of India. Has India paid huge sums as FDI to these countries to boycott the WC t20?
No one knows it for sure. Big secrecy? Most cricketers today are on the payrolls of India’s some of richest IPL bosses and possibly of BCCI for their “dedicated” services in honour of India, making it shine perpetually on the field.
For India, like its neighbors Pakistan and Sri Lanka, cricket is perhaps more profitable business than foreign trade these countries conduct. Mafias make huge money both from black and white from cricket. Lankan cricketers, who cannot but play in IPL as their duty, appear to consider Indian currency too valuable.
No matter how the budget is prepared and presented in the parliament, mafias and middlemen continue to thrive.