The government in the Centre has a life-span of 100 days or so. A new government is to take charge after the general elections in April-May. In such a scenario, on previous occasions, the incumbent governments have presented vote-on-account to get the sanction of the Parliament to incur expenditure for a part of the year, beyond March 31. But Narendra Modi government, as is its wont, has deviated from the practice. The interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal has presented a Budget with promises galore to woo the voters. It opened a large gift box doling out benefits and reliefs to a wide spectrum of people.
There is no doubt, the ‘Modi Budget’ has unleashed a ‘feel good’ factor. The announcement of Rs 6,000 per year for farmers with less than two hectares of land is touted as a game-changer. But, its insignificance becomes glaring when one compares it with what certain State governments have done. For example, under the Rythu Bandhu programme, the Telangana government gives every farmer Rs 4,000 per acre as “investment support” before every crop season. The objective is to help farmers meet a major part of their expenses on seed, fertilizer, pesticide, and field preparation. Accordingly, a farmer with five acres (two hectares) of land with two crops a year will get Rs. 40,000, which is a substantial amount to prevent them from falling into debt trap. Compare this with the Rs 6,000 (which roughly works out Rs 17 per day) doled out by the Modi government. As one political analyst puts: It is rubbing salt into farmers’ wounds.
There is a catch in the many promises made in the Budget. Take for example the tax relief for middle class, the announcement of which was received with the longest applause coupled with ‘Modi, Modi’ sloganeering in the Lok Sabha. As details in the fine print emerged, it became clear that the announcement of ‘no taxes for Rs 5 lakh income’ will not be available for those with income above it as tax slabs have been left untouched. Another ‘game-changer’ scheme of pension for workers in the unorganised sector will start bearing its fruit decades later.
The Budget comes in the backdrop of a raging controversy over unemployment. According to a leaked report of the National Sample Survey Office, the unemployment in 2017-18 was the highest in the last 45 years. However, not much effort has been made in the Budget to tackle this issue of paramount importance though the BJP had promised two crore jobs every year during its campaigning in the 2014 elections.
No government in its last year makes announcements that leave a huge gap in the income and expenditure to burden a new government which is going to take over in a few months ’ time. Many are smiling at some of the Budget announcements, but it is to be seen how long this smile will last as the full impact on the ground is to be seen in the months to come. The government had five years to come out with schemes to help farmers and workers in the unorganised sectors. Waiting for the fag end of its tenure is nothing but an eyewash to woo the voters. Will the voters fall into the trap? Probably Bernard Baruch, an American political consultant, has an answer when he says: “Vote for the man who promises least; he'll be the least disappointing.”(Published on 04th February 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 06)