Are budget announcements mere political exercises?

ROHIT CHANDAVARKAR
Saturday, 3 February 2018

When Suresh Prabhu was the railway minister for some years from May 2014, he made a conscience decision that he will not announce any new train or new projects in the railway budget because he said he realised that dozens of announcements happen every year and nothing of it gets implemented. Now, the time has come to think about whether the same thing applies to the General Budget too?   

In the current scenario of information overload by mass media, all sorts of interpretations and analysis of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s annual budget for 2018-19 has already happened immediately after he finished his presentation in the Lok Sabha.

However, one major point that many analysts ignored and have been missing year after year is to take some kind of follow-up of what happened to the announcements made by the finance minister in the previous year’s budgets! And if such previous big announcements have not been fulfilled, does it mean that the budget is becoming more of a political exercise to announce just the intent of the government which may or may not be fulfilled at all?   

Just look at some of the announcements made in budgets by this finance minister or previous finance minister and you will realise that perhaps half of those announcements never materialise! So why are those announcements made? The answer is obviously to keep certain sections of the society happy!

None of these sections of people later take stock publicly of whether what was announced or promised in the past year’s or previous year’s budget was actually delivered by the government or not!

Take the example of budget announcement made by this government in their first full budget presented in the house in 2014. They announced that 100 smart cities will be built in various parts of India in the coming years and an allocation was announced for this purpose by the finance minister. Today, has anything moved on the smart city front almost four years after the initial announcement? Some media reports suggested -

 “Out of the annual funds allocated last year for smart city projects just seven per cent was spent and nothing is moving on the projects”. The push given to ‘Make in India’ in one of the previous budgets has not worked as much as expected either. 
Similar is the case of many announcements made in previous budgets. Funds are allocated but work does not begin and eventually in the next budget, the project is shelved and new announcements happen!  

So are these announcements in (part one of) the budget mere political slogans. Now, an ambitious announcement has been made of providing health insurance of up to Rs 5 lakh to 10 crore families (50 crore people), the government has allocated 
Rs 2,000 crore for this purpose but most insurance experts say that for this scale of an insurance scheme, the funding required could be anywhere between Rs 70,000 to 

Rs 1 lakh crore! Without this money, how will the health insurance scheme roll? Is this another announcement like ‘Make in India” which will predominantly remain on paper?

Corporate India is always very reticent when it comes to giving any negative feedback about the government of the day, so all corporates sitting in news channel studios gave thumbs up to the finance minister’s budget on Thursday but then as soon as markets opened on Friday, all these corporates went into a sell-off spree! And the market crashed by almost 850 points! If they have liked the budget so much, why are they selling off their stocks? It only indicates that nobody is willing to describe the real picture or give genuine reactions to what the budget contains. Nobody is either willing to take up a scrutiny of what happened to previously announced projects.

When Suresh Prabhu was the railway minister for a couple of years from May 2014, he made a conscience decision that he will not announce any new train or new projects in the railway budget because he said he realised that dozens of announcements happen every year and nothing of it gets implemented. 

He said he wants to focus on building the network and improving the quality of railways and not announce any new train routs for some years. Now, the time has come to think about whether the same thing applies to the General Budget too?   

 

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