Chief Minister Siddaramaiah holds the record in the state for presenting 14 budgets. Now, all eyes are on his 15th on February 16, which comes weeks before the high-voltage Lok Sabha polls.
After coming to power in May last year, the Congress government immediately announced the implementation of five guarantee schemes, which were rolled out in a phased manner, almost until the end of 2023. In the first year, the administration was mostly focused on guarantee schemes, providing funds for them, and resolving glitches in implementation.
It did well on that front. However, a heavy focus on guarantees also resulted in a perception that development took a backseat due to the paucity of funds. The government was accused of delayed response to drought-hit farmers. Although the CM announced some measures, including Rs 2,000 compensation for drought-hit farmers, it was termed too little and too late.
In the second budget of his second tenure as CM, Siddaramaiah is likely to make all efforts to drive home the point that his government is responsive, not neglecting development, and that there is no dearth of ideas or willingness to take the administration closer to the people. Siddaramaiah had earlier announced that the size of the 2024-25 budget would be around Rs 3.8 lakh crore, up by Rs 50,000 crore, compared to his previous budget.
The CM will focus on further bolstering the feel-good factor generated by the guarantees and giving an impression that the government is more citizen-friendly. The budget is likely to have schemes that will help build the perception and citizen-connect, but without a huge financial burden.
Big response to the CM’s Janaspandana programmes showed that he is keen to directly reach out to people to resolve their grievances. He spent several hours, interacting with thousands of people coming from different parts of the state and directed the officials to redress their issues in a time-bound manner.
Although the CMs used to receive petitions from people and pass them on to the departments concerned, the two big ‘Janaspandana’ programmes, including the one held outside Vidhana Soudha earlier this week, were the first of its kind, well-organized initiatives. Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar also held citizen connect programmes in different parts of the state capital.
That is commendable work by the CM and DyCM. But, a big turnout at ‘Janaspandana’ also shows that the system is not working well. After his first ‘Janaspandana’ in November last year, the CM himself had stated that if more people come with grievances to his second Janaspandana, it means that the officials are not doing their work. Turnout at the second Janaspandana was much more than the first one. Ironically, despite consistent efforts by some ministers to bring efficiency to their departments, the system still needs to improve a lot.
Also, Contractors Association president D Kempanna’s allegations of 40% corruption reflect badly on the Congress government that came to power by amplifying the same association’s charges against the previous BJP government and by promising to clean up the system.
While a majority of the citizens have accepted corruption as a fait accompli, it would work well for the government to show some resolve in cleaning up the system and pushing development works.
On the development front, the CM may give a push to infrastructure development in the state capital. After all the talk and buzz generated over taking ‘Brand Bengaluru’ to the next level, it’s time for some concrete action and efforts to address the basic concerns of the citizens.
The big irrigation and drinking water projects, including Mekedatu, need to be taken forward and there is a need to give more emphasis to taking industries to the north Karnataka region to generate employment opportunities.
His budget is also likely to reflect the poll necessities. Congress’s victory in Karnataka in 2023 helped to boost the morale of the party leaders in other states and at the Centre. While the Grand Old Party seems to be tottering in many states, especially in North India, and much talked about I.N.D.I.A bloc seems to be imploding, the Congress leadership in the state will certainly make all-out efforts to fight the Modi wave in Karnataka. A reflection of that is likely to be there in the budget as it is being presented as the parties are gearing up for the big battle.
Endowment Minister Ramalinga Reddy has requested the CM to allocate funds for renovating 100 Ram temples in the state. This is seen as Congress’s effort to counter BJP’s attempts to capitalize on the Ram temple issue in the elections. It would also help blunt BJP’s attempts to brand the Siddaramaiah government as anti-Hindu.
As people expect all that and much more from the government, it will be a challenging task for the CM to strike a balance between expectations and certain limitations in which he operates. As a big chunk of funds had to be allocated for the five guarantees, there is limited scope for mobilizing resources, and concern over rising debt.