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Budget Priorities

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The Uttarakhand Budget for 2024-25 presented by Finance Minister Prem Chand Aggarwal, amounting to Rs 89.23 thousand crore, reflects the healthy growth of the state’s economy in the past few years. It is no surprise, therefore, that there were no big bang announcements in the context of the coming Lok Sabha elections. This must have come as a relief for all those entrusted with managing the state’s finances and keeping the growth trajectory on even plane. However, the budget has been presented in a way that highlights the government’s political priorities so that the people can endorse the effort while casting their vote.

How are the people to know whether the ‘healthy’ state of the economy is because of or despite the government’s policies? Are all the allocations being made for various sectors and schemes being effectively utilised, or is the debt being incurred going to come back as a major liability? This can only be ascertained by each voter from personal experience of improvement in quality of life.

The budget has been shaped along PM Modi’s newly coined description of the ‘castes’ that need to be benefited – women, the youth, farmers, and the poor. Greater focus on these economically defined categories rather than the traditional caste identities will certainly provide a boost to the government’s efforts. However, as pointed out by the Finance Minister, Uttarakhand also requires to give particular attention to the hills and plains divide, development of critical infrastructure, and conservation of the environment.

This is truly a formidable challenge, which requires equal focus on quality of administration and financial management skills. It has been seen that, despite all the claims and efforts, even the most basic facilities are proving difficult to provide in the hills. Committed as the government is to prevent further migration, indeed, to encourage ‘reverse migration’, the task seems nigh impossible every time reports come in of a pregnant woman losing her life while being transported from one hospital to another, and another, due to lack of facilities. Feasible models need to be developed for easily available helicopter rescues of critical patients, instead of serving just high-paying tourists and pilgrims. Or, ensuring the hospitals are upgraded to the required levels with the necessary staff. Delivery should be praised rather than mere grand announcements. It is true that the rise in the economic tide will eventually make Uttarakhand a ‘leading’ state, but it will happen faster if the priorities are right.