he Budget 2020-21 presented in the State Assembly Tuesday was heavy on tokenisms. Finance Minister Niranjan Pujari claimed this year’s state Budget has many firsts, some in the state and some in the country. Odisha became only the second state in India to have gone in for a paperless Budget – e-Budget. Members in the Assembly were given tablets to refer to the Budget as it was being presented by the Finance Minister. However, people with no access to smart phones, TVs or computers found it difficult to access the Budget on a real time basis.
The government claimed that by going digital it saved the lives of 70,000 plus trees – a green boost – that would have been otherwise cut had the government gone in for printing of the Budget documents. Pujari claimed he has presented a separate Budget each on climate and nutrition— possibly a first in the country again. A Budget for children and a Budget for gender to boot. Coming soon is a separate Budget on the weather to help farmers. The government has been presenting a separate Budget on agriculture since 2013-14 and this time round, it stuck to the script. In fact, Odisha was the second state in the country after Karnataka to have been presenting a special Budget on agriculture. Except for these tokenisms, there was little in the Budget in terms of economic vision or innovations that could make it a memorable document. The government has stuck to the previous template in terms of resource mobilisation and expenditures. Economic slowdown in the country seems to have played its heavy hand on the allocation for agriculture. The sector received Rs 19,408 crore which is Rs 1306 crore less than the allocation in the fiscal 2019-20.
The Finance Minister has loosened the purse strings in some areas, while the action has been rather muted on generation of resources. Pujari claimed he has doubled the allocation to industries at Rs 575 crore, however, in absolute terms it is hardly anything. The Budget has failed to address the agrarian distress. Given that over 75 per cent of people in the state feed off farming, a long term action plan to develop robust agriculture infrastructure in the state is missing. Development of a time-bound irrigation network especially in coastal areas, development of mandis for specified agriculture commodities, establishment of market linkage and development of scientific storages or silos across the state are some of the important areas that needed attention. No significant efforts have been taken to raise jobs to tackle the burgeoning unemployment problems. Tourism is a potential sector that could absorb a large number of manpower. The state has a 480 km of coastline and is endowed with lots of natural sites some of whom have lots of potential for adventure tourism. Not to talk about its myriad ancient temples, especially the Golden Triangle that attracts thousands of religious tourists from around the country and beyond round the year. A lion’s share of the tourism Budget has been earmarked for Puri and Bhubaneswar. Out of a combined Rs1660 core earmarked for the sector, the two cities between them have received Rs 845 crore. A similarly proactive approach towards other tourist sites in the state was also in order.