IMPHAL, Feb 28: The general elections are round the corner. In a democracy and its elections, what counts are the votes cast by an individual irrespective of age, caste, class, region or education. This dictum has been very wisely adopted in the Union Budget presented by the India`s Finance Minister on Monday. In other words, in this latest edition of the union budget, the approach is rather of the neoclassical wherein the interests of the individual agents in the economy are addressed rather than of the classical one which calls for grand designs for the economy as a whole.
There are four aspects from which I would try to evaluate the latest budget. First is the case of inflation. Second, we have the issue of lack of accountability and corruption in the governance of the country. Third, we need to look at how the budget addresses the issues of the North Eastern Region. Fourth, we have the forthcoming general elections. Let me give my take on all these four issues now.
Coming to inflation, we would have expected a very frank and directed approach in this regard. The inflation we experienced in 2008-09 was mainly because of international factors of high food and fuel prices. This was satisfactorily taken care of. But soon after this we started experiencing the current phase of inflation due to domestic reasons of rising food prices. While this is being attempted to put under control, the world now sees the emergence of another round of rising fuel prices consequent upon the Jasmine Revolt in Tunisia and the aftermaths in Egypt, Libya and others. This is coupling the already high food prices at the global level. All these factors would certainly have an unfavourable impact on prices in the country. The budget is completely silent on this aspect. Maybe with the elections getting near, the government does not wish to alarm the people on any issue, or otherwise these are conditions favourable enough for governments to push ahead with strong measures.
The last few months have witnessed the increasing exposure of corruption and corruptibility in the governance of the country. Naturally the whole world expected that the government would come up with certain tough and innovative measures to address this menace, particularly because the entire prestige of the country has been terribly compromised. But the government thinks otherwise, or particularly at this time of democracy, it feels it should rather leave the responsibility of taking care of this to the next government whatsoever. At at least three places, the Finance Minister does display absolute understanding of the issues involved, but when it comes to the remedial measures he has sought time by appointing committees.
When it comes to our region, the budget has nothing specific about it. The special assistance being promised for the next fiscal year would of course go a long way in meeting the election expenses of the ruling party. The Untied Special Central Assistance would be of extreme use in this regard.
Lastly, we need to examine how the budget attempts to meet the interests of the people. The Finance Ministry must definitely have burnt the midnight oil in order to identify the different cross-sections of the population in the country and their varied needs. The budget has definitely attempted to put in place one scheme or the other for every category of the population of the country and with benefits to be delivered at the level of the individual. This is where the ingenuity of the budget lies. Unlike the earlier pre-election budgets, it does not show a picture of populism in as much as it is. It tries to portray these as inclusive development schemes. The problem here is of course would be how is the government going to ensure that these do reach the population group being targeted. Such schemes have been the most convenient ones for the powers that be to siphon-off the funds for their own personal aggrandisement. With the governance issue being skirted for the time, the fear still remains strong. This is particularly surprising as well, as the pre-budget Economic Survey itself had acknowledged the World Bank ranking of India as one of the worst countries to do business with in so far as the quality of administration is concerned.