The Budget

The present government, whose term is due to end shortly, has presented a budget that can by no means be called interim. It is a full- fledged budget, and the government has transgressed the usual norms in presenting such a budget. Nobody expected that the budget would address the larger issues of growing inequality of income and wealth. But it has not addressed the question of employment either. It has, instead of presenting official statistics, cleverly stated that since the economy is growing, employment must be increasing. The Finance Minister is hopelessly ignorant that in the present global economic order, the emphasis is not on creation of jobs, but on reduction of labour costs so as to withstand the pressure of global competition. He is definitely aware, however, of the dismal failure of the Modi dispensation to fulfil the pledges on the creation of jobs.

On the proposed pension scheme for workers and employees of the unorganised sector, it must not be overlooked that where there is no certainty about the continuity of jobs, there is no guarantee that the workers and employees will be able to pay the amounts they will be required to deposit every month in order to get the pension benefits after thirty or forty years. Everybody except the hypocritical and dishonest supporters of Narendra Modi knows how the unorganised sector has been hurt due to demonetisation. Besides, allocation of only Rs 500 crore for such an enormous project raises the question whether the proposal is really well-intentioned or a mere electoral gimmick.

On the farm sector, the decision to give a subsidy of Rs 6,000 a year to all farmers cultivating 2 hectares of land is misleading. In the farmers' rallies across the country, the clearly articulated demands were those of resolving issues of land rights, availability of inputs at affordable prices, dealing with the problem of debt to both private and public creditors, provision of access to credit etc. The budget has addressed none of them. Besides, giving a relief of Rs 6,000 per year is literally a mockery. According to the estimate of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, the costs of cultivation, excluding land rent and rental costs of the machinery, amount to about Rs 70,000 per hectare if both wheat and rice crops are cultivated. For two hectares, the cost would be Rs 1,40,000. How much relief will the farmers practising double-cropping then get? Instead of solving their basic problems, so clearly articulated in farmers' rallies and demonstrations, a sop of Rs 6,000 per year is more like giving some alms to beggars than to try to solve the crises of farmers. Besides, there remains the question as to whether the title holder or the actual cultivator will get the benefit, in cases where the cultivator works on leased-in land. This system of tenancy-based cultivation is by no means rare in this country, and in many cases tenancies are not recorded. So, the problem of identification of the farmers looms large. If holders of ownership titles reap the benefits instead of actual farmers, which is not at all unlikely, there will be intensified tension arising out of a sense of deprivation. In truth around 55% of all peasants are landless and work as share-croppers or wage labourers. The government scheme doesn't even touch this section.

Of course, there are some sops given to the relatively well-to-do sections of the middle classes in the form of income tax reliefs. The people belonging to these classes are by nature selfish and they may be thankful to the present government that is going to face the electoral test soon.

It is here that the cat is out of the bag. Five years' experience in power has taught Narendra Modi and his trusted lieutenants that the people cannot be satisfied with the pill of Hindutva and the brazen lies associated with it. Hence, after the loss of power in three states, they are now desperate, but they cannot afford to antagonise the corporate tycoons and their foreign masters, who are their principal backers. For the first time this government has presented a budget without revealing its assessment of the economy. This speaks volumes for what it wishes to hide. The election-oriented budget of Modi is deceitful and based on untruths.

Vol. 51, No.32, Feb 10 - 16, 2019