Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Article on Budget in The Pioneer

Why people don't care for Budget
Second Opinion: G Gokul Kishore

(Article published in The Pioneer (Daily) on 19th Feb 2008)

With the date for the announcement of Annual Budget approaching, one wonders if the pre-Budget and post-Budget debates will make any sense to a majority of our countrymen this time.
Average citizens seem to have resigned to fate as budgetary consultations don't accommodate the concerns and needs of the majority. Nor do the farmers, having left with no choice but to end their lives, have any say in the process. The vast majority of labourers in the unorganised sector are not even in the reckoning. Despite myriad schemes, the perennial paradox of intended beneficiaries caught in the vicious circle of lending, usury and sporadic relief persists. Sloppy implementation of NREG does not help them either.
A robust eight per cent growth and soaring Sensex - never mind the occasional dips - try to reinforce an image of all-round prosperity. But cars, colas and creams cannot substitute food, houses and medicine. Education and health still manage just a minuscule percentage of the GDP. Public schools are nakedly commercial today where the net worth of a family determines whether its children will have access to quality education. A hospital with minimum facilities is a mirage in most places.
Income generation is conspicuous by its absence. Unless the per capita income of rural households also registers an increase through substantial employment generation, consumption will stagnate. The sheen of IT/ITES or call-centre jobs cannot combat unemployment; such sectors remain irrelevant to the rural and semi-urban youth.
Equities are touted as 'patriotic' investments today. Government-backed savings schemes give low returns; ironically, the Government, too, is looking up to the market for parking its pension funds. Capital markets are risky and regulatory bodies can hardly protect small investors and senior citizens.
Catchy phrases like millennium goals and four per cent growth in the farm sector sound hollow as they appear more like strokes of fortune rather than result of policy. The overwhelming opinion seems to be to encourage industry, which will take care of all social needs through linkages and trickle-down effect. People forget that the corporate sector can supplement but cannot run a welfare state.
At a time when tax collections are extremely buoyant, Finance Minister P Chidambaram can afford to look beyond mere economic progress. Will he?

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