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Budget Conundrum

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The Union Budget is going to be a tough ask for Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. She has to walk the tightrope between making life easier for the common person and making the necessary provisions for the economy to not just revive from the Covid-19 phase but continue growing in the required direction. Not having the luxury a rich nation like the US has to simply print notes and release them in the system, she will require enormous ingenuity to meet everybody’s needs. It has already been seen how the relief packages released during the past year put money in the hands of the poor while, at the same time, provided stimulus to various sectors of the economy in others ways. Something similar can be expected in the coming budget. A wide range of economists have given suggestions on how this can be done, some of which are innovative and likely to be accepted.

For the ordinary people, however, it all boils down to whether the basic necessities of life become cheaper. Populist politicians focus almost entirely on this aspect and can be expected to go to town on the elements they feel are inflationary or provide relief to ‘big business’ (for which the current phrase used is Ambani-Adani). However, it must be remembered that what one person uses is produced and sold by others just as much in need of enhanced income. The present farmers’ agitation, for instance, is rooted in the decades of trying to provide high prices for food items and, at the same time, selling them cheap to the ever growing population from the PDS shops. The overall subsidies are being paid for by the taxpayer, who does not receive the necessary services as a result. It is possible, today, for farmers’ incomes to increase through value addition and catering to upmarket demand, but it requires first to wean them from the teats of the socialist state.

In trying to achieve such goals, the government is bound to inconvenience, even antagonise, certain sections of society, but it must be remembered, if the effort is sincere, it needs to be accepted. The Modi years have shown that the government is not just trying to provide citizens their due, but has also been demanding that they put effort into carrying through their responsibilities. It is not just the soldiers at the border who need to risk their lives for the nation – it is just as much the duty of the others to risk their livelihoods to achieve economic breakthroughs. The parasitic culture of populism must end for India to advance further.