The Budget was populist in nature and announced several measures for farmers, informal sector workers and the middle class. To relieve farmer distress, the Budget unveiled the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, an assured income support programme for 12 crore small and marginalised farmers with an outlay of Rs 75,000 crore per year. This is a good move, however, with an annual relief of only Rs 6,000 per year, it may not make any meaningful impact.
There were some measures to help farmers get timely credit for cultivation besides fund allocations for rural development in the Budget, but nothing to push agri-technologies that enable transparent price discovery in commodity markets as well as help farmers increase crop yields.
The pension scheme for workers in the informal sector, Pradhan Mantri Shram-Yogi Maandha, is welcome as it will provide a social security net for nearly 10 crore Indians. It will also be the first step towards generating formal data on the kind of jobs being created in this sector.
An Income Tax rebate for up to Rs 5 lakh and hiking the standard deduction to Rs 50,000 from Rs 40,000 will translate into higher disposable income for the salaried and middle classes and help boost urban demand, which augurs well for the overall economy.
The allocation for the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has been substantially increased, which will help in improving the condition of these marginalised communities. The budgetary allocation of Rs 60,000 crore for MGNREGA for the economically weaker sections of society will also bring some relief.
In the area of education, the budget allocation for the National Education Mission has gone up. Similarly, the additional allocation for the Integrated Child Development Scheme will provide better pre-school education and primary healthcare as well as improve nutrition in young children and their mothers.
The allocation of Rs 1,330 crore for the Mission for Protection and Empowerment for Women is timely and will help in creating a safe and secure environment for women.
Overall, the government did well to balance the populist tone of the Budget by signalling its commitment to stick to the road of fiscal discipline, pegging the fiscal deficit at 3.4 per cent of GDP (Gross Deomestic Product), slightly higher than the targeted 3.3 per cent for FY19.
The Budget could have done more to strengthen the existing start-up ecosystem. It was disappointing to see that the start-up sector did not receive any relief in terms of a 10-year tax holiday for angel investors. However, announcement of a national programme on Artificial Intelligence is a welcome move. Such an initiative will go a long way in addressing the skills gap in this area.
The Budget also failed to announce GST (Goods and Services Tax) exemption on drugs to treat cancer, which is an urgent need given the huge disease burden that India faces.
In the final analysis, this Budget has tried to address various stakeholder groups in the run-up to the elections without unveiling any big idea.