SO the UPA Government’s 2011-2012 budget is out and has been the subject of much debate and comment. That is only but natural. Practically every major English language newspaper, especially DNA did a splendid job in explaining what the budget is all about, with the help of charts, graphs etc. That is not an easy task and the media as a whole deserves the readers’ congratulations. To digest the budget and to comment upon its plusses and minuses calls for extraordinary expertise and this has been shown by the media in ample measure.
What editorial writers often forget is that a majority of readers are not familiar with high-sounding technical words and opinions should be conveyed to them in language they can understand. That said, the views expressed are worth recording. The New Indian Express (March 1) was sharp in its criticism. Pranab Mukherjee’s speech “though not too long has remarkably shrunk in content” said the paper to begin with. “Inflation, deficit, corruption, on none of these burning issues of the day is Mukherjee’s 2011-2012 budget explicit in any way” it complained. Besides, said the paper “the priorities of the budget are quite opaque” while on some other delicate issues “particularly the one involving allowing foreign portfolio investors to invest in SEBI-registered mutual funds, the budget seems too daring”. What the budget skirts around, said the paper “is the high basic inflation rate” and “on black money too, the budget is economical with words”. The paper concluded by saying that “the silence in the budget on key issues hints that there may be something wrong with the United Progressive Alliance coalition itself”.
The Hindustan Times (March 1) said Shri Mukherjee “is the mid-wife for a new rule-based tax regime” and has “clamped down on excise exemptions, expanded the list of services that are taxable and collapsed customs duty slabs” and has done “his bit to not add to the inflationary pressure by declining to raise more money through taxes.” “The issue of black money” said the paper, “is to be addressed through greater coordination with foreign governments and a study at home on ways to gouge out money stashed in hidden pools.” “This budget” the paper added, “tries to dispel the spectre of a governance deficit and succeeds in parts.”
The Telegraph (March 1) said “Mr Mukherjee has surprised everyone by coming up with a budget which makes a lot of economic sense.” “Clearly” said the paper, “the Finance Minister believes that the Indian Private Sector can achieve a high rate of growth in the current global environment if only it is left to itself.” Claiming that “the aggregate budgetary figures seem very promising” the paper noted that “the central message of the budget is to promote fiscal consolidation along with some modest measures to promote the weaker sections of the population.” The point was that there was “no turn to populism” and the paper appreciated that there is to be “tight control exercised on government expenditure to meet the fiscal deficit target.”
Deccan Herald (March 1) bluntly noted that the budget “has turned out to be an exercise in timidity as it has no major initiative or announcement to catch the imagination of the people and the industry.” Shri Mukherjee, said the paper, “has not imposed any new taxes, except bringing in some new services under the service tax net and kept the tax rates unchanged for most products.” It said that he has also not offered any major concessions to any sector. “The tax exemption limit for general category individual tax payers has been marginally increased from Rs 1.60 lakh to Rs 1.80 lakh which will hardly mean anything when adjusted to inflation” the paper pointed out. It said: “There was a strong case for replacing ad valorem duties with specified duties on petroleum products so that the consumer doesn’t have to pay every time crude oil price rises, but the Finance Minister failed to introduce the reform.”
The Asian Age (March 1) said that “it was no big-bang budget that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee presented” nor could it be described as “an outright populist one”. “Indeed”, it said, “it reflects the sensitivity and understanding the minister brings to bear on issues affecting the farming community, big business and even ‘very’ senior citizens over 80.” The paper conceded that the finance minister has acknowledged “that implementation gaps and leaks from public programmes are a serious challenge” but added that regrettably, “the minister was short on specific ideas about how to tackle corruption.” The paper was happy to note that the budget “on the whole”, indicated “a tilt toward rural India, even in an area like housing.” In conclusion, the paper said: “if the Rs 12,57,729 crore that the budget provides for spending in 2011-2012 can be protected from corrupt elements, the country – particularly the poor – should see better days in the new financial year.”
The Times of India (March 1) noted that “despite good intentions, the budget lacks big ideas” and “to be fire, budget-making couldn’t have come at a pricklier time, marked by slacking reform, scorching prices and tight monetary conditions.” It said “Mid-point in UPA’s second stint, this was the finance minister’s best chance to boldly seek to rectify the economy’s many structural warts, instead he plays safe.” “He’s not overly populist. Nor is he resolutely reformist. The budget, equally, seems all over the place.” Overall, said the paper, “there’s little something for everybody…. yet please-all intentions notwithstanding, the big ideas are missing.” “Budget 2011-2012” the paper concluded, “disappoints”. The same point was made by The Hindu when it said that “bereft of any big idea and with its focus on minutiae, the budget presented disappoints as a political response to the perception of drift…” The paper made a detailed, full length, analysis of the budget in all its implications indicating a great deal of analytical study only to conclude that “overall, it is not a budget that is calculated to capture the imagination of the country, even as it has sought to maintain the growth momentum through minor tinkering.” “Many of the promised measures” the paper ended up by saying, “are not specific enough and are as yet for the future”.
The final comment can probably be summed up in one word: “Disappointing”. But Big Business, in general, seems to be satisfied. The Finance Minister received an average of 6.5 out of ten marks in an assessment made by several leading industrialists. Not too bad, is it?