No vision, no philosophy, this is an announcement Govt


Shashi Tharoor


COLUMN

I Mean What I Say


* You promised achhe din and you have now moved the goalposts another 25 years into the future, after an illusory 'Amrit Kaal', when none of you will be around to be accountable for that either.

The Budget serves as a platform through which the people of this nation are informed of the political priorities of their government | ANI

I have long argued that the annual affair of our Budget cannot simply be seen as a purely routine economic exercise or an endeavour in straightforward accounting, involving fiduciary allocations and unassuming numbers. Rather, it is an instrument through which the government of the day presents a political vision to manage the economy, and after the Covid pandemic, also to heal the country and set it on the path of recovery. The Budget serves as a platform through which the people of this nation are informed of the political priorities of their government--a government which was sworn in on the constitutional premise that it will safeguard the interests of all Indians.

So, while I criticised the government in my Budget speech in parliament on the many sins of omission in its Budget, I have to admit that the government has every right to say that its Budget embodies its vision of what is good for India, and that the Opposition's views are just that, those of its opponents.The government's supporters regularly challenge its critics to be fair-minded and to acknowledge what is meritorious in its proposals and initiatives. I would have done so in Parliament but ran out of time - so let me try and respond to the government here on its own terms.

I am happy to concede that not all the announcements in the Budget were unwelcome -- but even the positive aspects prompt additional questions.
For instance, I have no difficulty supporting the concept of 'PM Gati Shakti', but worry that this will result in greater centralization of powers and the further alienation of our states in India's development trajectory. We know that 'co-operative federalism' has come to mean 'Central diktats' for the last eight years.

Like so many of our news anchors, I was also happy to hear the announcement of a huge increase in capital expenditure by this Government. But I wonder if it will indeed lead to urgently needed jobs. We cannot forget the government's poor implementation record, which saw capex actually fall in each of the last three quarters, along with a decline in new project announcements between September-December 2021. It is after all on this government's watch that we have the highest unemployment figures ever recorded.

Similarly, I was pleased to hear that the government will commission 400 more Vande Bharat trains. This will undoubtedly improve connectivity and speed of travel. I certainly hope we will get several of these trains in Kerala. They may, with some improvements to the existing track, help resolve the controversy over the government's SilverLine high-speed rail project by offering a cheaper, more energy-efficient and ecologically-friendly alternative. But as the MP for Thiruvananthapuram, I was disappointed to see no specific or adequate allocation for the completion of overdue work in Kochuveli station, for a new terminal at Nemom, for the doubling of the Thiruvananthapuram to Kanyakumari line, or for the introduction of new MEMU intercity trains - so many pending requests that have been neglected. I am sure most MPs feel the same way.

Similarly, I was also happy to hear of a much-needed National Mental Health Programme, but disappointed at seeing no serious efforts in building public hospitals across the country, including the long promised AIIMS in Kerala, promised in 2014 and deferred ever since.

In my speech I expressed my disappointment on the government's paltry allocations for education. I am willing to applaud the proposed creation of a TV channel for e-education, even though 17% of our schools do not have access to electricity, which limits its usefulness. But I remain bitterly disappointed that there is little money for actual education-whether it is the slashing of funds for the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the disposal of the National Scheme of Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education, or the lack of efforts to address two years of learning losses during the pandemic.
Apologists for the government claim that this is a visionary Budget that lays the foundations for India to become a developed country whereas the Opposition's welfarist critiques would leave us as a country of poor people living on handouts. This must be taken on frontally.

Aside from the fact that it was a Congress government that introduced liberalisation and another Congress-led government that presided over the best rates of growth our economy has ever known, there is one key missing element in this charge: if you have a coherent philosophy there should be some consistency over the years. But this government has none.

A fondness for grand announcements, followed by consistently failed implementation. There is little to cheer about |ANI

Let's take just one issue that it is identified with: privatisation or disinvestment. For nine straight budgets now, the government has projected revenue from asset sales that it has never actually earned. Last year the government predicted Rs 1 lakh 75 thousand crore and didn't meet it. Its revised budget estimate now says 78,000 Crore. It is unlikely to meet that either. It seems even the government has doubts, since for next year it is only projecting 68,000 crore.

Two years ago, the government announced that it would be privatising BPCL, Container Corporation of India and Shipping Corp of India. If any of these have been sold, Parliament has not heard of it. Similarly last year it announced the imminent privatisation of two banks and an insurance company. It didn't happen, and this year the government didn't even mention it.

Last year, it announced a National Monetisation Pipeline to see 6 lakh crore worth of old infrastructure to finance new infrastructure-building. This year, again, the government is embarrassingly silent on that scheme.

Many years ago, I said that this is a name-changing government, not a game-changing one. Today I will add that it is an announcement government, not an implementation government.
Dear Finance Minister Nirmala-ji: I have been listening to Jaitley ji's and your budgets attentively since 2014. Every single year he and you have announced fiscal deficit targets and failed to meet them. You have mentioned privatisation targets and failed to meet them. You projected improvements in the tax to GDP ratio and failed to meet those. You promised achhe din and you have now moved the goalposts another 25 years into the future, after an illusory 'Amrit Kaal', when none of you will be around to be accountable for that either.

Therefore, I'm sorry to say that the underlying vision that this government has presented through the Union Budget 2022-23, is a story of failure. A fondness for grand announcements, followed by consistently failed implementation. Even by your own yardsticks, there is little to cheer about.

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