The Union Budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was by no means what had been expected by some – a pre-election freebie festival. In fact, it turned out to be a very balanced financial document that has kept in its sights the short, medium and long term scenarios. As in many areas, the policy structure of the Narendra Modi government is focused on where India will be in its ‘Amrit Kaal’. Specific goals – and there are many – may or may not be entirely met, but all paths are being intertwined to achieve the target of bringing India among the foremost nations of the world by 2047, when the nation will complete a hundred years of independent existence.
This is made clear in the seven principles (Saptrishi) presented in some detail by the Finance Minister – each has been identified from the perspective of how it contributes to overall development. India cannot grow and any achievement would be incomplete if all the people do not benefit, hence ‘inclusive development’. This requires ‘last mile’ delivery, something that has been a priority of the present government from the beginning. How ‘infrastructure’ can contribute has already become evident to the people. There are the aspirational elements with ‘investment’, ‘unleashing potential’, ‘green growth’ and ‘youth power’ receiving special focus. And, of course, little would be possible without attracting and enhancing ‘investment’.
While some relief has been given to the middle class, senior citizens, women, etc., on the tax front, sector-wise course corrections have been made to ensure growth is not impeded. Quite a few innovative incentives have been provided, such as interest free loans for state governments to spend on particular schemes. There is protection for industry to promote ‘Made in India’ but relaxations have been provided in customs and other duties to ensure competitiveness. Not all will be satisfied but the interests of the end-user have to be kept in mind, while creating space for innovation and start-up initiatives.
The Finance Minister’s commitment to maintaining fiscal discipline remains, even as higher allocations have been made for numerous infrastructure and welfare schemes that have performed well till now. Hopefully, all those who have been provided incentives and funding will take advantage and deliver on the expectations the government has of them. While the FM can be lauded for the excellent balance and forward movement of the budget, it is also a fact that it would have been even better had a number of earlier initiatives been allowed to get off the ground, such as disinvestment and agriculture reforms. This is why, like the government, the opposition parties and the general public need to look beyond politics and take a long term view of these important matters.