Balancing the budget in a billion-plus underdeveloped country is a truly Herculean exercise. P.Chidambaram today attributed some of the good news on tax revenues over the last few years, based on averaged economic growth of 8.8 per cent annually, to his own luck. We must actually credit the positive results to humble Indians who have braved insensitive, corrupt governments and put in hard work. It will no doubt strike Chidambaram and his neo-liberal companions in the Ministry that if the domestic enterprise of the country had been unshackled even without foreign capital flowing in, much more could have been done during the period of the Hindu rate of growth.
An honest admission to make in such speeches, therefore, is about the failure of India’s politicians to get over their narrow self-serving vision and their obstruction of opportunity to the average Indian in past years.
Be that as it may, it is encouraging that Mr. Chidambaram, speaking on behalf of the UPA, has announced a waiver of loans for small and marginal farmers. The Manmohan Singh-led government can count this as an achievement — albeit under the grim shadow of thousands of past farmer suicides — if more impoverished farmers do not consume the pesticide that they had bought for their crops. Big farmers also look forward to some relief, although there may be some undeserving fatcats in this lot.
Mr. Chidambaram has claimed credit for raising the outlays on education and health, although these are such dispersed and poorly documented sectors that the benefits of his allocations will have to be assessed carefully. Many will be justified in their disappointment that even in this last full budget of its present term, the UPA could not move closer to the widely discussed allocations that both these sectors need as a percentage of GDP — six per cent in Education and two to three per cent in Health (even the World Bank, not the most benevolent of organisations, deplores our low government health spending).
A glaring omission in the Budget was the lack of any initiative to strengthen the Right to Information Act, 2005, on which the success of Government spending depends in great measure. If a massive national campaign had been launched, the average person would have been more aware and thus able to access documents and decisions pertaining to the various schemes outlined by the Finance Minister. It is not too late, and the Budget can still make a provision for it under some departmental head.
For the present, everyone needs time to study the Budget, and here are a set of links to the relevant documents and the FM’s speech:
Mr. Chidambaram’s Budget speech (pdf)
India Budget website (Finance Ministry)
Expenditure Budget index
Implementation of Budget announcements