The Interim Budget presented by Piyush Goyal is the last desperate attempt by the government to pull a fast one on the people of India. It signals that Prime Minister Narendra Modi knows he will not return to power unless he succeeds in fooling the people once again. Yet, despite the government presenting its sixth budget, when its mandate was for five, it came up substantially short.
The budget aimed to please a range of vote banks. But its effort is as too little, too late. After ignoring farmers for five years, the government finally woke up to their plight and announced an income support of a measly Rs 500 a month. For a family of five, this would mean just Rs 3.30 per day. Further, this does nothing to alleviate the distress of the tenant farmer and landless labourer, who face a double whammy with the poor implementation of MGNREGA.
The budget’s middle class tax rebate turns out to be an unfunded announcement. It will be up to the next government to actually implement the scheme. While tax rebates are welcome at a time of stagnant incomes, what use are they when there are no jobs?
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That the budget did not address the question of record unemployment demonstrates its priorities. Instead, the government had tried hard to hide the NSSO numbers, which revealed the bitter truth. This budget shows how Modi Sarkar has abandoned our youth amidst talk of pakoda frying and Uber driving.
The government continues to be fiscally undisciplined, breaching deficit targets yet again. This is despite low oil prices, and minimal fund increases for defense and the social sector. The CAG in its compliance audit raised concerns on how expenditures were being massively understated. This calls into question the veracity of the budget documents and the other data the government puts out. Under the Modi government, India is fast gaining the reputation for hiding data and cooking numbers. Hence, most of the budget’s claims are hard to believe and will require a fact check.
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For example, the government claims that the economy grew at 8.2 per cent in the year of demonetisation. A paper by IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath, studying employment and night lights data, shows instead that “demonetisation caused a decline in national economic activity of roughly 3 percentage points or more in November and December 2016”. Unemployment rose sharply too as the Annual Survey of Industries attests.
But evidence be damned, the Prime Minister just makes grand announcements. For the Saubhagya scheme aiming for 100 per cent electrification of all households, the government has not increased access, but just reduced targets! Similarly, the budget for the much-hyped Ayushman Bharat was slashed last year. Overall, despite revenue constraints, the government has gone ahead with huge spending promises but no concrete plans.
Go back and examine the BJP manifesto and PM’s speeches, one thing stands out: this government has been a spectacular failure. The RBI Consumer Confidence Survey from September 2018 made it clear that dissatisfaction with the Modi government was higher than it was with the UPA in its last year. It had one last chance to make amends. This budget is a testament it failed at that too.