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Home > 2022 > Union Budget 2022-23: The ‘Amrit Kaal’ mirage | P S Jayaramu

Mainstream, VOL LX No 7, New Delhi, February 5, 2022

Union Budget 2022-23: The ‘Amrit Kaal’ mirage | P S Jayaramu

Friday 4 February 2022

2nd February 2022

Nirmala Sitharaman, the Union Finance Minister presented the Union Budget 2022-23 using a tablet for the second time, though hard copies of it were circulated among the members. She gave publicity to the ‘Azadi ki Amrit Mahotsav’, and proclaimed that we have entered the ‘Amrit kaal’, the 25 years leading up to India@100, though India, of today, is faced with a barrage of issues, starting from unemployment, hunger, declining incomes of all categories of citizens except the super-rich. In such circumstances, talk of ‘Amrit kaal’ is a mockery. One wonders, with what sensitivity, did the finance minister choose to make those utterances.

The finance minister invoked the prime minister half a dozen times, saying it was at his instance, she decided not to raise taxes etc! It is an open secret that the budget speech must have been written by the officials in the PMO, which was presented by Nirmala Sitharaman, as the finance minister.

Let me turn to the more serious aspects of the budget. The visions articulated by the finance minister included promoting digital economy and finetech, technology embedded development etc, as is seen from taxing digital assets, starting off a digital university to offer world-class education, at a time when educational standards are declining steadily in our public educational institutions- secondary and higher education-thanks to the pitiable infrastructural facilities, acute teacher-shortage coupled with inadequate capabilities of the general lot of teachers and a fairly digitally handicapped rural students.

The obsession with everything ‘one’ with the Modi government ( one nation one election etc) has led to the slogan of ‘one class one tv channel’. A laudable idea, though it will take considerable amount of time to implement it, what with inadequate power supply and related issues in the rural side. The presently available 12 tv channels are to be raised to 200 channels to provide supplementary education in schools. Lofty promises, but will their implementation in a time-bound fashion be assured? I am not optimistic. Because, when the New Education Policy (NEP 2020) and its implementation was announced with big fanfare last year in the union budget with provision for centralised funding of research grants etc, it was hoped that all the grandoise ideas would be implemented. But, they are yet to become a reality. For the purposes of the Modi Government, NEP 2020 has replaced the earlier education policy! That is all. There is no mention of the NEP and its implementation in budget 2022-23. The allocation for education has gone up from this year’s budget estimates of ₹93224 crores to ₹104278 crores, for 2022-23, about ₹11000 crores. GDP spending on education continues to be around 3 percent, a far cry from the 6 percent which is being mouthed even from the times of P. V. Narasimha Rao, the architect of new economic policy.

The present budget talks of recognising five higher educational institutions as Centres of Excellence with an allocation of ₹250 crores to each of them. Hopefully, the parameters for such recognition would take into account their years of existence as HEIs, their academic standing in terms of national and international recognition. Their selection should be made in a transparent manner by independent expert groups, not going by the institution’s proximity to the powers-be and their ideological proclivities.

Health sector is another area which should have received maximum attention going by the devastation suffered by tbe citizens during the first, second and the on-going third wave of tbe COVID-19 pandemic. Though the finance minister made a mention of the importance of mental health and that NIMHANS, located in Bengaluru, would be the nodal agency for tele-counselling of affected persons, the actual allocation for the health sector sees a marginal increase of less than ₹1000 crores, going by the revised estimates of the current budget from ₹85915 to ₹86606 crores. This is highly disappointing as tha allocated amount would be grossly inadequate to take up the myriad activities under the banner of health. Comparatively, budgetary support for the IT and Telecom sector which is ₹53108 in the present budget stands increased to ₹79887crores.

Infrastructure development has received a big boost under the Prime Minister’s ‘Gati Shakti Yojana’. Road transport and highways has seen a whopping 68 percent increase with ₹1,99,107 crores with an ambitious target of laying down 25000 kms in 2022-23. Nitin Gadkari’s plate is full. He is acclaimed to be a minister known for beating deadlines. Likewise, Railways, handled by an equally hard-working minister Ashwini Vaishnav, gets ₹1.37 lakh crores with focus on capacity expansion of 400 new generation ‘Vande Bharat’ trains to be manufactured in the next three years.

As regards defence, the budgetary hike is marginal, going upto ₹3, 85, 370 crores from the current year’s figure of ₹3,47,088 crores. The ministry perhaps, deserved more, going by the continuing threats/ challenges from China, and the China-Pak axis. The emphasis is on giving a push for the ‘Make in India’ manufacturing of defence equipments. Defence allocations are often made outside the budget too, depending on necessities.

Neglected sectors:

There are many areas which have been neglected by the finance minister in her budget for 2022-23. Notable among them is Rural Development, which has actually seen a decline from the revised estimates of ₹2,06,948 in the current budget to ₹2,06,293 crores for 2022-23. This is a criminal neglect given the fact that farmers and rural development have suffered under the impact of the pandemic. Expenditure under tbe MNREGA scheme has been slashed. Farmers’ Unions have rightly criticised the government, showing an ‘attitude of revenge’ against them for spearheading the year-long agitation last year. Though higher prices have been announced for procurement of paddy and wheat, lack of similar support and reduction in fertiliser subsidies, with no mention of steps to double farmers income have hurt the agriculturists. BJP governments in UP and other States, which are going to polls along with Punjab, may suffer some electoral setbacks.

The middle and salaried class, including the pensioners, are greatly disappointed as the budget is silent on the issue of reduction of tax slabs. Reeling under the impact of rising inflation, they rightly expected some relief by way of reduction of tax rates, but the Modi government has dashed their hopes. As the opposition parties have said budget 2022-23 is going to heighten the inequality levels, going by the fact that the super-rich, who have amassed huge profits, have not been subjected to any additional taxes.

Though the finance minister defended that jobs would flow from the infrastructure development projects, unemployment levels are still high. According to the Centre for Monitering Indian Economy (CMIE), urban unemployment in January 2022 has shot up to 7.2 percent from the December 2021figure of 6.2 percent.

The excessive importance being given to disinvestment/ privitisation, shows the continuing neo-liberal policies of a government, which is obsessed with growth. No wonder, industry associations, like FICCI, and CII have praised the budget and the stock markets have have given a thumbs up! It is pertinent to recall, that the BJP leaders used to criticise the budgets presented by the UPA regime under Dr. Man Mohan Singh as ones with focus on ‘growth without jobs’. It is their turn now. They should gracefully accept the Opposition critisims and bring about the much-needed corrections to ensure growth with equality, humanity and justice. Will they?

(Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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