Business Standard

In focus: Four ‘castes’, Vishwakarm­a, tribals, border villages

- ARCHIS MOHAN New Delhi, 1 February

In her Interim Budget speech on Thursday, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a significan­t assertion: The government, she said, would return on the strength of its performanc­e to present a full Budget in July. She also proposed the establishm­ent of a high-powered committee to study the challenges posed by rapid population growth and demographi­c changes, and furthermor­e, announced that the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government would table a White Paper on the economy before and after 2014.

In her last year’s Budget speech, the finance minister had outlined the government’s policies for the welfare of the youth, women and farmers, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes (OBCS). In contrast, on Thursday, Sitharaman shifted the focus of Budget proposals on the four “castes” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has identified — namely the youth, farmers, women and the poor. In his remarks after the tabling of the Budget, the PM said its proposals will empower the “four pillars” of developed India — women, the poor, farmers, and the youth — and specifical­ly listed the schemes for “the poor and middle classes”.

It might suggest that the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are attempting to shape the political discourse from “caste” deprivatio­n to “class”, especially when the Congress-led Opposition bloc has demanded a nationwide caste census.

At the same time, the Interim Budget has significan­tly increased allocation­s for the PM Vishwakarm­a scheme, targeted at OBCS, from the FY24 Revised Estimate (RE) of ~990 crore to ~4,824 crore, an increase of 387 per cent. The scheme was introduced in 2023.

This Interim Budget also allocated ~13,000 crore to the Tribal Affairs Ministry, a marginal increase from the FY24 Budget Estimate (BE), but an increase of 70 per cent from the RE of ~7,605 crore in 2023-24. The Umbrella Scheme for the Developmen­t of Scheduled Castes received ~9,560 crore, a marginal increase from the FY24 BE of ~9,409 crore, but a substantia­l jump from the RE of ~6,780 crore. The government’s Vibrant Village Programme for border villages, introduced in 2023, received ~1,050 crore vis-à-vis the FY24 RE of ~300 crore. The PM Schools for Rising India (PM SHRI) scheme received ~6,050 crore, a substantia­l increase from the 2023-24 BE of ~4,000 crore and RE of ~2,800 crore.

As for a White Paper on the economy, the BJP leadership had first proposed it in the initial weeks after the party formed government at the Centre in May 2014.

It later relented with the PM stating in 2016 that putting the details of the economic mismanagem­ent during the United Progressiv­e Alliance (UPA) rule would have contribute­d to pessimism and affected market sentiment. On Thursday, Sitharaman said the government has repaired the economy step by step since 2014.

“The crisis of those years has been overcome, and the economy has been put firmly on a high sustainabl­e growth path with all-round developmen­t. It is now appropriat­e to look at where we were then till 2014 and where we are now, only for the purpose of drawing lessons from the mismanagem­ent of those years. The government will lay a White Paper on the table of the House,” she said. Reacting to this, Congress President Mallikarju­n Kharge, in a post on X, asked the

Narendra Modi government how many promises it fulfilled in the past 10 years, including creating 20 million jobs and doubling farm incomes.

For the Lok Sabha election year, the Election Commission has been allocated ~321.89 crore, less than the FY24 RE ~466.04 crore, which is higher than the FY24 BE of ~340 crore. An Election Commission source said the poll panel has spent on poll preparedne­ss, including training of its officers and constructi­on of strong rooms for electronic voting machines, which were earlier kept in makeshift buildings. The Ministry of Law and Justice, on the other hand, has been allocated ~2,418.20 crore under the head “election” for FY25, down from the 2023-24 RE of ~3,181.02 crore.

The 2023-24 BE for conducting elections was only ~317 crore.

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