Bharat’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented a responsible Budget on behalf of the BJP-led Government.
Conservative in content and spirit, the Budget for 2023 has a grand vision for taking Bharat to the big boys club globally. It lays the foundation for Bharat’s centennial run in 2047 by the time it seeks to evolve as an independent, inclusive and developed economy that is sustainable.
The Rs 45 lakh crores Budget’s swan song is to best utilise the Amrit Kaal, intervening 25 years to get there and become big. It’s in continuation of the Bharat @ 2047 line given in both the Presidential speech and pre-Budget economic survey on January 31.
Women’s empowerment, skilling our vast human resources, expanding the tourism industry and achieving green growth are areas identified in the grand vision.
BMS On Budget
Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) feels that the Budget 2023, presented, by the Finance Minister, is aimed at strengthening the economy at large. BMS has always stressed that the Labour, Farmer and Micro & Small industries are the pillars of development. The Budget 2023 has given proper importance to these three are engines of growth. Giving highest priority to basic infrastructure will help to strengthen the economy. BMS thanks the Finance Minister for accepting some of the major demands of BMS like, usage of machinery for cleaning manholes and sewerage, extending income tax rebate rate from Rs 5 lakhs to Rs 7 lakhs to salaried middle class people and increasing IT exemption limit from Rs 2.5 lakhs to Rs 3.00 lakhs. BMS also welcomes giving high priority to Defence, Transport, Railways, Communication, MSME sector and jobs for youth. It also welcomes the Vishwakarma Kaushal Samman Package and 15 per cent exemption to cooperative societies. BMS cautions the Government regarding usage of Artificial Intelligence. The Government should also envision and establish some regulatory mechanism for Artificial Intelligence.
Seven priorities laid-out by the Narendra Modi Government point out to reshaping Bharat’s economic and development paradigm. Nirmala Sitharaman gave the Budget a civilisational connect by christening these priorities as saptarishis that guided this country for millennia.
Finance Minister, who has now turned a veteran with her fifth Budget presentation in a row, the tenth by the Narendra Modi Government. She did not lose sight of larger macro-economic fundamentals. And, she treaded a cautious path.
Finance Minister peddled hard, staying the course on fiscal consolidation and refraining from ‘reckless spending’ or profligacy, the hallmark of a Government that faces polls in a year or so. Prudence reflected all the way, especially in a year when most global economies reported heading for recession or large deficits.
In contrast, it was heartening to see that deficit in Bharat was under control. Pruning it to 6.4 per cent in the next financial year and 4.5 per cent by 2025-26 is expected to be on track.
Keeping the jobs-led green growth on roll at 6 – 6.5 per cent in 2023-24 and achieving double-digit expansion in the medium term is what the Government aspires to achieve. And this financial year’s 6.5 per cent growth serves as a perfect beginning.
Even for the current fiscal, the Government managed to keep the deficit at 6.4 per cent on the strength of tax revenues and expanded the spending to Rs 41.9 lakh crores.
“First Budget in the Amrit Kaal of India has established a strong base to fulfill the aspirations and resolutions of a developed India. This budget gives priority to the deprived and strives to fulfill the dreams of the aspirational society, the poor, villages and the middle class” – Narendra Modi, PM
Grandstanding on a global vision and fiscal prudence did not mean that Prime Minister Modi or his protégé Sitharaman have lost out on right messaging ahead of Lok Sabha elections in 2024, preceded by Assembly elections in seven States this year.
Jobs and environmentally sustainable growth were articulated by Sitharaman in the backdrop of ‘rozgar melas’ that PM Modi has been conducting for the last six months, giving out appointment letters to thousands of first-time for job seekers. In continuation of earlier initiatives, this Budget lays emphasis on creating conditions for new jobs and aspiring youth.
Vocal middle-class voters who have been the main stray of this Government got their due, especially the honest taxpayers with across the board tax concessions, remissions and exemptions with limits rejigged.
In the process, Nirmala Sitharaman had to forego Rs 35,000 crores in revenue. But it was possible given the buoyancy in tax mop-up, especially the personal income tax, corporate tax, and goods and services tax mop-up, which was Rs 1.5 lakh crores each month.
From the economic management side, this would spur further demand for goods and services, which has a multiplier effect on growth impulses.
But, opposition political formations were bound to criticise the last full budget of this Government in the present term as ‘election oriented’. The noise has been louder given the Modi Government’s opposition to the ‘revdi’ culture of freebies put in motion by the Delhi and Punjab governments that were unsustainable.
The opening line of the budget speech itself was strong on political messaging as it enlisted youth, women, farmers, backward classes, scheduled castes, tribes, and economically weaker sections to be targeted in making Bharat’s economy ‘inclusive’, open and prosperous.
The budget was the third instance when the Government chose to present its report card of nine years of governance. Nirmala Sitharaman’s numbers were impressive at 11.7 crores households getting toilets, 9.6 crores cooking gas connections, Rs 220 crores Covid-19 vaccinations for 102 crores persons, 47.8 crores Jan Dhan Yojana bank accounts, 44.6 crores getting insurance cover and 11.4 crores farmers getting cash support of Rs 2.2 lakh crores. Several of these data points were also available in President Murmu’s address to a joint sitting of Parliament and Economic Survey.
Nirmala Sitharaman also managed to keep the industry and markets trigger-happy. Two big decisions that led to positively growing markets are a 33 per cent increase in infrastructure investment at a whopping Rs 10 lakh crore in 2023-24, way above Rs 7.3 lakh crore in the current fiscal. This is three times what was possible in 2019-20.
If one were to take the grants given to support capital assets in states, capital expenditure moved up to Rs 13.7 lakh crore translating to 4.5 per cent of GDP. An addition is a capital outlay of Rs 2.4 lakh crores to railways and Rs 75,000 crore to developing critical transport infrastructure and logistics. The second trigger was that consumers across brackets got tax relief, making extra money available for investment and purchases. Thirdly, the Government managed to keep its public finances in order without making major demands on the industry through corporate taxes, enabling them to invest confidently in green and brownfield projects.
Modi Government’s budget also makes a sincere attempt at building confidence in people at large and swells with pride in Bharat’s citizenship, especially while making song and dance of the momentous G-20 Presidency and economic surge as the fastest growing global economy. This pride is sought to be derived from Bharat becoming an important cog in the economic order internationally.
Formalisation and digitisation are factors that were pushed by the Government, thereby weeding out corruption in its schemes and shrinking the informal economy. For instance, digital payments led to 7400 crore transactions valued at Rs 126 lakh crore in 2022 alone. Jobs in the formal sector have also grown, and this is reflected in EPFO membership, which swelled to 27 crores.
Agriculture as a big priority is no surprise given the Government’s core economic philosophy, and the shift to millet-based natural farming is a big idea that it sold through the Budget. global Hub For Grains
‘Shri Anna’, an Indic name for millets like Jowar, Ragi, Bajra, Kuttu, Ramdana, Kangni, Kutki, Kodo, Cheena and Sama, resonates as an initiative to make Bharat a global hub for these wholesome, nutritious grains. Already, it’s the largest producer and first or second largest exporter of these old high-value grains.
Cooperatives that have been identified as vehicles to rural prosperity got a big place with a national registry of these grassroots enterprises being put together. And the Rs 20 lakh crore agriculture credit package would drive the sector with minimal non-performing loans. To encourage 63,000 cooperatives to begin manufacturing quickly, Nirmala Sitharaman extended 15 per cent corporate tax benefits to enterprises that commence operations before March 31, 2024.
Another shift is taking economic growth on the green pathway. Apart from the dedicated hydrogen mission with Rs 19600 crore set aside, Rs 35,000 crore was allocated to enable energy transition from carbon fuels to green credits, 500 waste-to-wealth projects with Rs 10,000 crore investment and renewable energy evacuation from Ladakh supported with Rs 8300 crore. Skills development got a new heft in its 4.0 version, with 47 lakh youth getting trained for taking up jobs three years from now. As tourism has been identified as a priority area, 50 destinations are sought to be developed with a complete package in the first phase. Most interesting is that domestic tourism will take precedence over foreign tourists.