The right Budget
What constitutes a budget? Beyond the long list of expenditures and revenues lies the intention to address the underlying issues prevalent in society through robust policies whose feasibility can be underlined in the upcoming Budget. Budget 2019 comes in at a time when the nation is delving into the mood of elections. Lok Sabha elections are due this summer and pre-electoral budget possesses the capacity to be populist in nature. More so, since the loss in recent state elections puts the current dispensation in a critical position from where they would certainly want to remould public opinion. The past four years have certainly not drawn a blank, with ambitious targets envisaged and duly delivered. Keeping the lacunas at bay, the policies initiated under different heads such as healthcare, housing, tax, energy, agriculture (to some extent), et al, have all given the nation a new path. There is no denying that India fared quite well in the ease of doing business index under the Modi regime. Make in India, Skill India initiatives sparked entrepreneurship to a different level but unemployment soared nevertheless. Jan Dhan Yojna ensured first-time bank accounts to many people and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) were enriched with new facilities to provide a paradigm shift. Mudra loans facilitated rural financing. Demonetisation curbed tax evasion, bringing more people to file returns along with increased transactions but was condemned for the instability it caused – tremors of which are still felt. GST was implemented on the resolve of having one rate across the country, and further rationalising the rates in subsequent intervals was done to polish the new tax regime. Cutting short the long list of initiatives taken, the previous budgets, in a way, set the stage for this final budget and also prepare a report card of the current dispensation prior to the general elections. So when Piyush Goyal stressed presenting a full budget and not an interim one, speculations drew about how the current government will fill the plate with sops and leave the implementation part to the next government. Instead, a full budget is more of the final chapter in the series of budgets which had built new avenues under various heads. While Kharge adamantly cited his dissent, promising to oppose the government's move to present a full budget, it is expected nevertheless. Strengthening MSMEs, structuring bank reforms and housing schemes, increasing farmers' income, etc., require robust intervention from the Centre to consolidate their work till date which, in turn, requires expanding the expenditure bracket. However, critics will draw conclusions on how India is incessantly breaching the budgetary targets and running into deficits. Budgets are ambitious. With a developing country such as India, pegged with a rising GDP, criticising deficits is not the right inference. What is more important is to adequately tend to the rising concerns which can be managed through a robust budget. Unemployment for one has been the major concern. The upcoming budget must tend to this issue for it can not only impact tax collection but also has tangible aspects such as social unrest. Another aspect which could be grossly revised and reinvigorated is the digital economy. In the past four years, the digital economy has seen a dramatic rise. Post-demonetisation, the nation – sensitive to hold paper currency – was greeted with a plethora of digital platforms to promote the digitised economy. Incentives for digital payments and electronic payments are likely to surface. Being the third largest in digital space, India must catapult itself to thrive in the digital economy, especially with the advent of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, etc., making a significant impact on different sectors like health, entertainment, education, governance, business, etc. Hence, the budget must also secure sizeable expenditure in the digital sector. Tax rebates, like in the last budget, will most likely feature again, all the more considering the budget's populist nature. While healthcare, agriculture and education remain the evergreen sectors to receive routine improvisations, employment has effectively become the need of the hour – demanding a holistic approach. If the current government has opted for a full budget then they must utilise the opportunity to not just woo the voters but present a budget which reflects the development India needs. There is no denying that the onus of their promises would fall on the next government but if the promises are realistic, and budgetary allocations survive scrutiny to come out as goals needed to be accomplished in the interest of the entire nation, then even a populist one works. However, providing sops to garner interest and avoiding the core-issues would badly affect the government's credibility as well as the development so far. Expectations aside, the government can just tend to the lingering issues and hindrances in the current development goals. Even that will make the right budget – one worthy of being welcomed by the next government.