No More Target Practice, the Real Shoot ’em Up Has Begun
A pathbreaking Budget that quietly takes radical steps to a giant leap into India’s future. There is now no going back
Coming after a major pathbreaking move like the demonetisation initiative, finance minister Arun Jaitley did a credible job of giving a balanced Budget with a focus on inclusive growth. Allocations to rural and agriculture are commendable. Despite increased spending by the central government, both fiscal and revenue deficits have been maintained. Fiscal reforms, enhanced focus on housing and rural development, encouragement to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), higher agricultural credit allocation to farmers, steps towards transparency in electoral funding and incentives for promoting digital economy are welcome measures. I am happy that many of the steps recommended in the interim report submitted by me to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the convener of Committee of Chief Ministers and officials to examine and promote the use of digital payment systems across the country, have been accepted and incorporated in the Budget. I appreciate the one-time exemption from capital gains tax to the farmers who have pooled their land for the creation of the Andhra Pradesh capital Amaravati. Sharp increase in the allocation of funds to MGNREGA will help us undertake more inclusive rural development works in a convergent manner. Increase in the corpus of the long-term irrigation fund to 40,000 crore in the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) will help in brisk execution of the Polavaram project. Measures like the exemption of foreign portfolio investors Categories 1 and 2 from the provision of indirect transfer and increase in the presumptive income scheme from 1 crore to 2 crore will go a long way in improving ‘ease of doing business’. Steps introduced for cleaning the system of political funding, such as filing of returns by political parties in a stipulated time and accepting donations above 2,000 by cheque or digital mode, will improve transparency in electoral funding. Measures towards promoting affordable housing and real estate sector are welcome. The introduction of a consolidated Outcome Budget covering all ministries and departments is a pathbreaking move. States with good performance in different sectors should be rewarded by increased allocation. The Bill relating to curtailing the menace of illicit deposit schemes and the resolution of financial firms will contribute to stability and resilience of our financial system. A sharp hike in the allocation of funds to the infrastructure sector was much needed. It is a welcome move that Andhra Pradesh expects to benefit from immensely. Allocations for the development of electronic clusters should have been accompanied by the announcement of Shenzen-style employment zones. I hope it will be announced very soon. The focus on the rural economy with a rise in farm credit, increasing insurance coverage and targeting to double farm income is a much-needed step. The targeting of specific programmes in mission-mode — such as Mission Antyodaya to bring one crore households out of poverty and to make 50,000 gram panchayats poverty-free by 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, and achieving 100% village electrification by May 1, 2018 — is highly positive. Imparting new skills to the people in the rural areas includes training in masonry to five lakh people by 2022. An action plan to eliminate kala-azar and filariasis by 2017, leprosy by 2018, measles by 2020 and tuberculosis by 2025 is also targeted. A similar plan has been prepared to reduce the infant mortality rate (IMR) to 28 by 2019 and maternal mortality ratio (MMR) to 100 by 2018-20. Unmanned level crossings on broad gauge lines will be eliminated by 2020. For a state like Andhra P r ade sh, which h a s been bifurcated unscientifically, I expect more enhanced support and legitimacy to the special package implementation from the central government.