New Delhi: It was an unusually long 2 hours, 41 minutes Budget speech by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, where she tried to come across as ‘pro-farmer’ while devising a new tax regime aimed at the middle class.
However, beyond the couplets and promises, the specifics showed either no increase in allocation or marginal. With very little fiscal room to manoeuvre, Sitharaman walked a tightrope.
First the good thing that this government has done is that it has considerably increased the allocation for pensions that is surely going to make a lot of retired people happy. From Rs 1,84,147 crore last year, it has jumped up to Rs 2,10,682 crore. Also ‘interest’ allocations have jumped up from last fiscal’s 6,25,105 crore to Rs 7,08,203 crore. In fact, the estimate for rural development has only gone up by Rs 1,408 crore.
But beyond that, there has been no sizeable jump. For instance, a government that breathes national security and even the Finance Minister’s mentioning that it comes top of its agenda, the defence expenditure saw a marginal rise.
Last fiscal year, the defence estimate was Rs 3,16,296 crore. But this year it rose to just Rs 3,23,053 crore. A jump of Rs 6,757 crore. This thin jump is unusual given India has kept its forces stationed on both borders along Pakistan and China.
Similarly, even after so much talk about ‘Gaon, Gareeb, Kisan’ budget, apart from the promises of Kisan Udan or Kisan Rail, when it comes to numbers, it shows minor rise.
Last fiscal year, the government estimated to spend Rs 1,20,835 crore on agriculture and allied services. This year it has an estimate of Rs 1,54,775 crore. Given India’s rural economy is in bad shape and agriculture and rural infrastructure are the only way to put money in the villagers hand, the hike is not phenomenal, to say the least.
What’s more? There has been a decrease of subsidies. After breaking it down, one realises, while food subsidy and petroleum subsidies have gone up by wafer thin margin, fertiliser subsidy has gone down quite a bit. Against last years’ Rs 79,998 crore, this year’s estimate is Rs 71,309 crore.
Sectors like energy, external affairs or transport has witnessed very little change that it’s not even worth mentioning. The social sectors spendings have also been extremely limited by Sitharaman.
While the ruling has predictably lauded the Finance Minister, calling this a ‘pro-people’ budget, the spendings show a different tale all together. But one can’t blame Sitharaman entirely, given the fiscal deficit the government is facing which crossed its set 3.3 per cent mark, taking care of fiscal prudence.
But it leaves the common man, unaware of such terminologies wondering, was the budget this year all about couplets like ‘blooming lotus in Dal Lake’ or they got to save something out of their hard earned money.