Ajit Abhyankar of Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Amit Narkar, Director of National Center of Advanced Studies, spoke to Prathmesh Patil and said that the State budget fails to address any of the burning issues of Maharashtra.
What is the overall sense that this budget gives out?
Amit Narkar (AN): I think more than talking of the budget alone, we must look at it in the context of the figures that the government’s own Economic Survey (ES) presents.
Ajit Abhyankar (AA): The government claimed that the State has a growth rate, which is ‘higher than the national average as well as the national growth rate’. But the growth in the agricultural sector is actually negative at -8.3 pc.
Could you expand on the agricultural distress?
AA: The entire rural economy is seeing an unprecedented crisis and the government is completely insensitive. The government is fooling the people. They announced a ‘historic’ farm loan waiver of Rs 34,000 crore in 2017. But even as the next season of cultivation approaches, the government has given out a relief of only Rs 14,000 crore.
AN: The government has underspent the money that it allocated to agriculture by 40 per cent. You can say that there is an increase in allocation for agriculture, but if you take the allocation for irrigation along with agriculture, you will see that the increase is marginal at 0.98 pc, while the rate of inflation is at 4 per cent. So there is no real increase.
So there is an issue with the government underspending?
AN: Absolutely. The government has spent only 5 per cent of the funds that it was supposed to spend on housing and only 40 per cent of its agricultural funds. Not only underspending, but the government has indulged in fund divergence. Last year, when it announced the farm loan waiver, it diverted Rs 2,200 crore from SC/ST funds to the waiver. This year too, it has diverted Rs 2,100 crore. The government has also reduced the allocation for MNREGS by Rs 20 crore. And if the government tries spending all those unspent funds in the last 15 days of March, it will result in rampant corruption and degraded quality of spending.
Is the government doing enough on the industry and employment front?
AA: If you look at table No. 10.9 of the ES, the employment in factories in the State has actually fallen. Only 5 lakh jobs were created while the government claims 25 lakh jobs were created. The government is pushing the already employed workers under the NEEM (National Employment Enhancement Mission), where almost all workers will be denied any kind of protection of work.
AN: The government on one hand is taking away land and security, denying post matric scholarships, making higher education more and more difficult for the underprivileged and then will create vocational institutes to push them towards menial jobs and claim the move is a huge success.
The State is facing a deficit of more than Rs 15,000 crore, what is the reason?
AA: The State government has failed in enforcing tax collection. Maharashtra has a per capita GDP of Rs 1,65,000 and collects taxes of Rs 18,262 on average. Compare it to other states like Kerala where income is 1,62,000 and tax is Rs 23,000, in Tamil Nadu the income is Rs 1,53,000 and tax is Rs 21,287. The State has Rs 1,09,000 rupees in uncollected VAT liabilities, which is 50 per cent of the total tax that the State can collect.
AN: We get a 5.21 per cent share in Central tax collection. If the Centre also collects taxes promptly, more than Rs 48,000 crore can be made available to the State. There is also reduction in grants in aid to Maharashtra by Rs 2,000 crore. If the Centre and State governments are of the same party, they should not let this happen.
But aren’t waivers and spending difficult in these deficits?
AA: If you decide, even the salary of the principal secretary is a burden. There are Rs 35,000 crore accumulated with the government through the Construction Worker Welfare Cess but the State government doesn’t even spend Rs 5,000 crore on these workers. If the government eliminates corruption and enforces tax collection, this deficit can easily be overcome.
So is the government just playing to the gallery with its announcements?
AA: The government is not even playing to the gallery, it is fooling the gallery. The government is shunning its responsibility of health, education, etc, and is destroying its own systems.
AN: The core issues of Maharashtra are agriculture and employment. The government is talking about everything but these issues.