The budget reassures people that the government has a holistic and methodical approach to develop areas of its priority
Dr Sudip Kar Purkayastha
Budget 2017 has further enhanced Modi’s stature as a leader with national vision. It was a refreshing departure from the stereotype where governments in their ‘general’ and ‘railways’ budgets indulged in tokenism and
incremental-ism, tinkered with tax or freight rates to please one at the cost of another section, threw crumbs at select constituencies, and used budget to advance their narrow political interests. In comparison, this budget embodying the railways, reveal that the entire course of strategies and actions of this government is better coordinated and would be pursuing broad national goals in a purposeful and efficient manner.
It has come at a time when the Modi government has reached the mid point of its five year term. The importance of the budget, as an instrument of government’s intent and policy, grew as it came in succession of a couple of key measures i.e., the GST and demonetisation. The entire country was keen to know how the government would proceed next. There was much speculation and this grew intense when the date of budget presentation was advanced by nearly a month. Modi’s political rivals, repeatedly surprised and taken out of their depth by his astute political moves, had cried hoarse and imputed motives for trying to push in the budget on the eve of elections in five States. Apprehending that the Modi government would play the pied piper of Hamelin with its budget proposals to woo the voters away, they knocked at the doors of the Election Commission and the Supreme Court, but failed.
Eventually the veil was lifted on February 1 and the opposition parties were proved to be quibblers. There was little in it, if any, that sought to assert short-term influence over voters. On the contrary, an elevating national vision permeated the whole document. Together with the ‘outcome budget’, a voluntary accountability report cum a new adjunct from this year, it gave a compelling account of the strivings the government has been making to sculpt a modern
tech- savvy, self-reliant and globally
competitive country. No less
significant has been the fact that this exercise has been going on rather silently and away from the gaze of a short-sighted, socially irresponsible and cacophonic mainstream media.
Some key areas of emphasis in this budget, which correspond to the
government’s national vision and overall plan of action merit mention.
Less than three months ago the government went ahead with de-monetisation in a bid to rid the economy of black money courting enormous risks. Following that up this budget has
listed out ambitious plans for strengthening digital infrastructure and
building an economic system so as to
prevent fresh accumulation of
The budget reassures people that the government has a holistic and methodical approach to develop areas of its priority. For example, it has targeted a two-fold increase in farmers’ income over next five years. To achieve this, the budget has laid down a comprehensive action plan that encompasses soil testing centres across the country and makes
adequate provision of timely
It is reassuring to see that the wide range of government schemes and programmes have been premised on prudent fiscal practices and sound macro economy management. The government is confident of adhering to budgetary deficit of 3.2 per cent and hopes to reduce it further to 3 per cent in the following years. This gives the people a hope of looking at the foreseeable future with comfort and expectations of low inflation. After decades of life-wrenching price rise, such a benign outlook probably constitutes a precious gift to the people of the country.
During 2016-2017, on an average 133 kms of new road has been constructed on a daily basis under the Prime Minister Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). Total length of new roads constructed including under PMGSY from 2014-15 till now aggregates to an impressive 140,000 kms. Simultaneously, Indian Railways have commissioned new rail tracks covering a total of 2,800 kms and hope to commission 3,500 kms this year. Equally strenuous and meritorious work has been carried out with regard to village electrification. Around 69 circuit kilometres of transmission line were laid per day during 2014-16 .
On the bedrock of such strong achievements the government is determined to achieve 100 per cent village-electrification target by May 1, 2018. On the issue of ‘cleanliness’, around 60 per cent of the country’s villages have been made defecation-free so far. Efforts are on about completing the rest. In nutshell, the country is feeling the impact of a government that is in action mode. And its performance over last 33 months lends credence to the targets it has set to achieve in the Budget 2017.
These inter-alia include building one crore houses for homeless and dwellers of “kutcha” houses to be achieved by 2019, providing safe drinking water to 28,000 arsenic and fluoride affected habitation over next 4 years, eradicating major diseases like Kala Azar by 2017, leprosy by 2018, measles by 2020 and TB by 2025. Doubling the farmers’ income, as was cited above, by 2022 is yet another such ambitious goal.
The performance data and future plans suggest that India has been well-entrenched on the path of development, despite a transient phase of economic sluggishness in the wake of demonetisation. Many of the fears including that of an impending famine spread by sections of political parties were proved untrue. The Rabi sowing has reportedly been more than past year. The gradual but definitive resumption in economic activities has been confirmed by the latest assessment of the World Bank which estimated that the country would end up in 2017 with a GDP rate of 7 per cent and it would continue to remain the fastest growing large economy in the world.
Interestingly, there is a political dimension to the on-going nation building activities and this can sometimes be lost sight of due to either magnanimity or negligence posing a risk to the sustainability of the very process.
Since taking over as the Prime Minister, Modi has been advocating co-operative federalism. This is indeed desirable but it works out well when the States reciprocate through responsible behaviour too. When any nimble feet injudicious State government, driven by its narrow political interest, attempts to take undue share of the credit in respect of the Central schemes, a problem does arise. From the trend of current politics in India such risks appear to be very real at least in a few States where rival political parties are in seat of power. It is important to realise that irrespective of how and where development plans are made and given effect to, the actual delivery of the benefits takes place physically only at the States. Gullible public can scarcely make out to whom should the credit be given especially when schemes are packaged and branded attractively with local flavour. Some political parties have no qualm in decrying a good budget but simultaneously exploiting its positive features to the hilt.
It may be argued that such misrepresentations and misconception should not matter as long as the people get the scheme benefits. However, in electoral politics correct communication and attribution are vital to guarantee the continuation of good work. Being too liberal and off guard can certainly dash Modi’s hope of building up a base in States run by his political opponents and securing a working majority in the Rajya Sabha. If experience of past 33 months is a guide, to remain in perennial minority in that the Rajya Sabha could act as a formidable road-block.
Therefore, devising efficient and articulate party machinery at the State- level to educate and inform the people becomes crucial.
(The writer is a senior columnist)