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‘High speed’ diplomacy... Cleansing a corrupt system… Between the bang and the whimper… BJP’s one man army... Of judiciary and GM A challenge and an opportunity for OPS Where’s the big idea? Take the next leap forward... Drive ahead, the road is well-laid... The Chinese model for rail development TN budget - little leeway for capex BHEL – R&D and image building require more attention Scientists, please raise your voice for GM crops Welcome continuation of the reforms thrust BJP, shift to south Rajini can’t or can? A WATERSHED YEAR Welcome aboard President Kovind A 5-6 per cent growth is given… Has PC missed out on BIG BANG REFORMS? Gujarat model for port development Rahul coronated Repeat 1991– work on a growth budget... AAP - change from street fighting to administration IE completes 47 years... Imperative to take states along… Little for development Entering the 50th year… Mr. PM, bite the bullet... Physician, cure thyself… Corruption institutionalised; technique perfected Physician, cure thyself The four DISRUPTIONS of the month Reserve and perish Trail-blazing Tamil Nadu Welcome euphoria over the east Flying High? DMK does it again More lustre to leather: 70 years of CLRI Kanoon, Kovind and Kumble Light at the end of the tunnel – Cauvery Management Board to be set up Call for INNOVATION, for R&D Open letter to citizens Need for more BJP - the unifying force (of opposition parties) ! LOT CAN BE DONE THROUGH THE PPP MODE... State Elections: Mid-summer marathon Narendra Modi turns “THREE” An unhealthy adversarial relationship 10-point programme Fear of bankruptcy, liquidation Jaya Ho Fast - track railways to prosperity... Go for a One Power India
 
Where’s the big idea?

After Dr Manmohan Singh’s two path-breaking budgets, the first in 1991 and the next in 1992, the only time that we have had a dream budget was in 1997, when Chidambaram almost walked into history.  Since then we have been looking for a big bang idea, but it has turned out to be like the proverbial needle in the haystack. And now, despite the great expectations, the wait continues…

Whether it had to do with Arun Jaitley holding two heavy weight portfolios, and hence his inability to devote adequate time to each, or whether it has been due to a dearth of ideas arising out of exhaustion after a rather shrill electoral battle is anybody’s guess.

We don’t want to be offensive given that the new government has not had much time. But then, budgets are drawn not by the government but by the babus, under instruction from the government. Surely, the finance minister would not have read the budget speech for the first time only when he delivered it on the floor of the Parliament.    

But first, let’s get into the pluses:  As our experts say elsewhere in this issue, the proposed hike in FDI limit in insurance and in defence is welcome. That this sits with what the UPA had always wanted to do is a different issue.  The proposal to focus extensively on infrastructure is an idea whose time has come. A nation can ride its way to growth only with the help of its infrastructure.  And finally, the decision to appoint a committee that would examine the financial architecture for SMEs, the bulwark of our economy, is profound. Of-course what is important is that when the committee comes out with its suggestions it should be executed expeditiously and on as-is basis.

And now on to the minuses: The generous view is that this government is continuing with the policy of its predecessor. The irony is that it has been doing this on several fronts. Take the case of the price hike before the railway budget. That was vintage UPA. Next is the frequent petrol price hike. It is nobody’s case that the price should not be linked to international oil prices, but the NDA had earlier cried hoarse about it and had even indicated that the tax on petrol be slashed significantly. Nothing like that has happened. The MNREGA, about which so much noise was created by the NDA, continues. It looks as though the government hadn’t changed at all; only the colour had changed.

But we digress. The rail budget was impressive in parts, especially the ones relating to bullet trains and relating to improving rail safety.  When they happen, it would redefine the contours of travel in our country.  The direct tax proposals have seen some tinkering here and some tinkering there to keep the middle class happy. It looks like it’s seeking for short-term gains. On the indirect tax front, there have been no significant policy proposals. They are an extension of the old regime’s allocations. One would have expected alternative paths, either to raise taxes or to rationalise them.

Also sadly the budget hasn’t elaborated at length on what it intends to do with and what would be the time line for executing or abandoning some of India’s key outstanding legislation. Like: the Companies Act, 2013 which has taken 20 years to materialise, the Goods and Services Tax Act in respect of which the BJP blew hot and blew cold and, most importantly, the Direct Tax Code.  Budgets should be on direction and big picture rather than on minute details of which concessions to extend and which to withdraw.

We would have been happier seeing an indication of how the growth  targets will be achieved. We can only say what we have all along said that it is time to lay down a one-time 5-year policy framework and within that framework make adjustments and allocations. This will take away the annual tamasha.

 

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