Is this the Budget we want? – Pankaj Bhatiya

Screen Shot 2012-10-12 at 3.23.55 PMThis budget has once again amply proved the fact that with changing economic scenario the annual budget has lost its prestigious status as the most important annual event in terms of economic policy announcements by the government. Nowadays it is just a mere briefing on income expenditure statement of the government in current and coming financial year. On one hand the economic value of budget is going down, the political value is becoming much more significant. How else can we explain the over emphasis on the women in this budget after the inhuman act in national capital few months back? The victim’s family in this case is yet to get the due justice but the central government seems to have already done its part by naming the proposed Rs. 1000 Cr fund for women security & safety after Nirbhaya. Was the Delhi gang rape case a result of insufficient funds allocated for women security in India? Even a lay man can answer this correctly.

Another women centric announcement of setting up India’s first women PSU bank with a capital of again Rs. 1000 Cr in the same budget is clear indication that the congress party is trying hard to retrieve its much battered image after Delhi gang rape as otherwise there is no viable economic reason behind this announcement. Shouldn’t lot of other more pressing issues in banking sector have got precedence over a Mahila PSU bank?  Are women of this country not getting desirable banking services by existing so called male dominated banking sector? Is the fairer sex being discriminated in access to best banking services? We are living in an India where some of the biggest private sector banks are being successfully headed by women and there is no dearth of women in senior executive ranks in PSU banks as well. Moreover all these banks are there in market for the business and to make profits (I assume this is true for PSU banks as well in changed competitive scenario) and why and how the hell any of these banks would like to discriminate on the basis of gender.

One of the major cheer factors of this budget is the containment of fiscal deficit to 5.2 % with an ambition to achieve 4.8% next year. But if we go little bit deeper into the reasons we realise that this is no magic and mainly due to decreased government spending by 18% which means that many of the central government ministries did or could not fully utilise funds allocated to them. Controlling expenses to save more is surely a good financial habit in a family but it is not supposed to be good for the growth of national economy if the government starts doing the same just to bring down fiscal deficit. Ideally such laggard & lazy ministries should have been penalised for non-utilisation of budget allocated to them but our benevolent FM has actually increased their allocation for the next year! Only PC the politician can explain and justify the reasons.

As expected the allocation to all flagship schemes which helped UPA to come back to power in 2009 has been increased. MNREGA, PMGSY, MDM and the proposed Food Security Bill, all have been provided with substantial allocation. But the biggest irony is that all this happening in the midst of shocking news coming in from none other than CAG about the huge diversion of public money in many of these schemes, with latest being the revelations in Farm Loan Waiver (FLW) Scheme. While listening to this part of the FM budget speech I was just wondering whether he is narrating allocation to these schemes or scams! I strongly feel that as honest tax payers and responsible citizens of this country, we have all the right and are duty bound to play a vital and crucial role in deciding where & how the public money is spent by the government. After all every government in the world runs on public money and it should be made accountable to us. In fact there should be some provision in law under which the government should not be allowed to allocate anything to a scheme in which the money is not utilised appropriately or there are evidences of large scale diversion or leakages. Each minister should be treated at par with a fund manager of a mutual fund scheme.

In my view people will always remember UPA or Sonia for RTI. This is the best thing that any government in India has ever done to empower the common man and bring some amount of transparency in the functioning of various government bodies. Now we can ask the government anytime where and how the tax payer’s money is being utilised. But in view of series of huge scams, the system needs to be overhauled for more transparency. One approach could be quarterly public briefing by Finance ministry on tax collected vis a vis expenditure with status of allocations in various social welfare schemes. The details should be published on ministry website as well with some online mechanism by which any honest tax payer (disclosure of PAN and IT return filing status should be must at the time of questioning) can ask any related question to ministry officials directly.

Another area of disappointment where the huge salaried middle class was expecting some relief is personal Income tax. First time in the history of independent India, Finance Minister dared to defy the election year by ignoring this huge vote bank. Either the congress is overconfident that no matters they will return to power in 2014 or they simply don’t want to come back and take a break of 5 years! The meagre increase in housing loan interest limit from 1.5lac to 2.5lac is misleading as this is applicable to only first home loan up to 25lac and also for 2 years after which one has to pay tax as earlier. The best thing in this section is imposing some extra tax burden on 42000 odd super rich of the country. I think our Finance Ministers should act like Robin Hood more often!

The budget also disappointed on the issue of bringing back the huge black money from foreign land and utilise the same for development projects here. There is no roadmap for the same which is deplorable. It shows the UPAs sheer apathy towards the most important issue of corruption per se. Here I would like to highlight a landmark decision by the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh in which the enormous unaccounted money found with 2 senior IAS officers during Lokayukta and other raids to be confiscated and brought to government kitty. Similar decisions by JD (U) led Bihar government some time back bring some hope. Hope that this would set a precedent and government in Delhi will follow the same in mega scams like CWG & 2G. This can really help our learned FM to achie

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