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Budget that lays 25-yr roadmap for Badhta Bharat

Sitharaman surprised with her long-term thinking, sacrificing short-term opportunity to use Budget as a tool to win elections

Budget that lays 25-yr roadmap for Badhta Bharat
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Budget that lays 25-yr roadmap for Badhta Bharat

Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, began her Budget speech in the background of positive developments. One, she was armed with the latest overnight information on the collection figures for GST, which was Rs 141 lakh crore for January 2022, touching the highest figure of Rs 141 lakh crore ever achieved In April 2021(for sales in March 2021). The present figures, even though same, are more impressive because the earlier one was for the last month of a financial year when commercial activities peak. By sharing the latest collection figures, Sitharaman added strength to her statement that India was on the growth trajectory post pandemic.

Second, the market had sensed that the Finance Minister would come out with a good budget for the nation and had opened on positive note. It was up around 780 points, when her speech began and fluctuated in positive bracket while she spoke, and was around 900 up, when she finished her budget speech. Unlike many years, when such an initial trends are reversed into negative territory before the session closes, on this day, Dalal Street gave thumbs up to Budget as Sensex closed with a gain of 848 points.

True to the market expectations, this budget was not a normal exercise and belied the expectations of a section of political pundits, who believed that the budgetary exercise would carry an impact of the five elections, particularly in UP. Sitharaman did not seem to be even taking a note of the forthcoming crucial elections. There was no appeasement attempt. The Finance Minister looked ahead, as if wearing blinkers, to avoid getting digressed. It was a pro India Budget.

This Budget was also different in its tone and tenor. Budgets are annual exercises and normally talks of the forthcoming financial year. This Budget seems to be creating a road map for next 25 years; the Amrit Kaal for India @100. This was a macro-Budget. The main plank of PM Gati Shakti and its seven engines were all aimed at long term building of a new India. National Ropeway plan was a new addition to this, with eight contracts to be awarded in FY23 for 60 km for tourism and negotiating congested areas. Several current schemes too crossed the limits of a financial year, like 400 new generation Vande Bharat trains in three years.

There was a softer side in the budget, displaying empathy, with a mention of disabled people and tax relief in disability insurance. First time there was a recognition of mental illness in a Budget, with a reference to Covid 19. The impact on education of children, particularly in rural areas and amongst weaker section of the people, was recognized. With a view to cover up the losses during the past two years due to the pandemic, it was announced that PM e-Vidya will be expanded to 400 channels to provide supplementary teaching to the students of class 1 to 12.

There was a never before massive digital and technical push to keep the country on track for India@100. It was announced that 5G auction will happen in 2022. This will bring India on par with the latest global speed on wire. Not to leave any part of the country on this journey, it was announced that the connectivity of all villages through optical fibers will be completed during the year. E-passports with embedded chips will be rolled out in FY23 for the convenience of international travellers. States are to be supported in creating IT based land records and implementation of one nation one registration platform.

This year will also see introduction of a digital Rupee currency by Reserve Bank of India using blockchain technology. This will be more efficient by reducing the cost incurred in printing and maintenance of physical currencies, apart from increasing the speed of transaction and reducing the possibility of forged notes. At the same time, crypto currency was not given a go bye to stay global. In a way, its presence was officially accepted by taxing the profit on sale of assets or at the time of gifting. Seventy-five digital banking units will be set up in 75 districts to bring more people to the fold of electronic transactions. At the same time, the process of bringing all the 1.5 lakh post offices on core banking will be completed in FY23 to make it easy for farmers and others in rural areas to be connected to all banks, anywhere.

India's prowess in home grown drone technology was displayed during beating the retreat last week, being the 4th country in the world to do so. Finance Minister announced in her Budget that the drones will now be used in rural areas for land record creation, farm output evaluation, pesticide and other sprinklings. Drones will soon become a part of the agriculture implements of a farmer.

In the midst of above, neither the farmers and poor nor the states were left out. For examples, highest ever MSP payment of Rs 2.73 lakh crore is proposed. Nal Se Jal and PM Awas Yojna will continue to get push. National Digital Health Ecosystem is proposed for those who lack health facility, specially in rural area. Rs 1 lakh crore of additional facility was announced for the states. Atmanirbhar will get a push with 68 per cent domestic procurement as against 58 per cent now. There will be production linked incentive for manufacturing solar modules. Capex allocation increases by 35.4 per cent to Rs 7.50 lakh crore, creating jobs and encouraging private sector to join in expansion.

True to the image of Modi Government, Sitharaman surprised with her long-term thinking, sacrificing short term opportunity to use Budget as a tool to win election. This was a vision for vikas and vistar, based on sabka prayas. She deserves a standing ovation for taking this bold path.

The author is an ex-MD, SBBJ (SBI Group)

Shiva Kumar
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