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A cut and paste Budget will do just fine

June 19, 2004

Last fortnight this column had suggested that Mr Chidambaram only needed to add a few knobs and bells to Mr Jaswant's Singh's interim budget speech to turn it into a soul-stirring peroration, comparable to some of the greats of the past.

It is possible, however, that the minister may not want to borrow from a BJP speech.

So I have included the original-original template, which would also meet Mr Chidambaram's  real boss's approval. Some of the things Indira Gandhi said when she presented her first -- and only -- budget in 1970 are given below as well. I have not gone into the details of her speech. But take it from me: they are truly worthy of a cut and paste.

But voters are ungrateful and a decade later the farmers said she had not done enough for them. So I have taken some excerpts from Great Farmer Charan Singh's 1979 speech as well. There were other worthies along the way such as N D Tiwari and S B Chavan, whose works Ashok Lahiri can unearth. All can be cut-and-pasted from.

Jaswant Singh 2004

". . . enhanced employment and eradication of poverty; a second green revolution; infrastructure development; fiscal consolidation; and greater manufacturing sector efficiency, are our solemn commitments.

"We hold that economic development is not about economics alone, it is always, simultaneously, a political statement too, for 'development' devoid of compassion is a misnomer. Growth statistics must also be the indices that assist us in designing distributive justice.

"Antyodaya Anna Yojana is now being extended by increasing its coverage to 2 crore (Rs 20 million) BPL families. . . tribal states, districts, or belts will receive added allocations.

"Specialty hospitals in the private sector remain beyond the reach of many of our citizens."

"The government is committed to ensuring the availability of timely credit at affordable rates to our farmers, and to other citizens in rural India. In July, 2003, a reduction in the rate of interest for crop loans by public sector banks to 9 per cent was announced.

"The government will consider the setting up of a National Cattle Development Board with appropriate budgetary support.

"To further encourage the development of small-scale and self-employed ventures it has been decided that the public sector banks will increase the credit limit for borrowers who have a satisfactory track record, from Rs 200,000 to Rs 1 million.

"In accordance with the mandate of the Parliament, the Ministry of Finance is committed to preserving and strengthening the IDBI's role as a development financial institution. Its effort will be complemented by other premier institutions and banks such as the Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation and the State Bank of India.

"The Agricultural Infrastructure and Credit Fund, the Small and Medium Enterprise Fund, and the Industrial Infrastructure Fund will provide credit at highly competitive rates, 2 percentage points below the Prime Lending Rate (PLR).

"The government has that DA, to the extent of 50 per cent of pay, will be merged with basic pay. This will take effect from April 1, 2004.

"Farmers face hardship on account of levy of tax on capital gains, and accrued interest on enhanced compensation, when their agricultural land is acquired by the government. Capital gains on such acquisition should be exempt from tax. There should also be no deduction of tax at source on the interest earned on enhanced compensation for acquisition of such land.

"We need to revisit the present exemption limits (in direct taxes) and realign them appropriately.

"To enable our domestic industry to compete with imported capital goods, which are currently subject to a 10 per cent basic customs duty, I have already reduced such duty on a number of raw materials, intermediates and components for their manufacture."

Indira Gandhi, 1970

"The provision of adequate employment opportunities is a necessary part of the strategy of development in a poor country. . .

"Without some restraint on urban land values and individual ownership of urban property, we cannot adequately develop housing and other amenities required to wrest the maximum benefits from the vast productive investments already made in our over-crowded towns and cities.

"A balance has to be struck between outlays which may be immediately productive and those which are essential to create and sustain a social and political framework which is conducive to growth in the long run.

"If the requirements of growth are urgent, so is the need for some selective measures of social welfare. The fiscal system has also to serve the ends of greater equality of incomes, consumption and wealth, irrespective of any immediate need for resources.

"I can only hope that the proposals I have just presented steer clear of the opposite dangers of venturing too little or attempting too much."

Charan Singh, 1979

". . . we attach great importance to rural development and employment in rural areas…the flow of institutional finance to rural areas…the government has decided to reduce the rate at which it refinances agricultural loans by about 1 per cent. . .

". . . this government is committed to the acceleration of the rural water supply programmes. . .

". . . the provision of adult education is being enhanced to 20 per cent of the total outlay for education. . . the government proposes to make a financial provision for a programme of training rural youth. . .

"I have attempted to put the maximum emphasis on agricultural and rural development and labour intensive industry. . . I have no sympathy for those industries that cater to the wants of the rich. We can have no room for production which caters to the rich and is a visible manifestation of the disparities in society. . . "

A decade later, it was the turn of another coalition finance minister, the old socialist warhorse Madhu Dandavate. He just couldn't rein in his Cabinet colleagues. The rest is history.

At least two lessons emerge from this. One, where Budgets and their politics are concerned, there is nothing new under the sun, and, two, "direct attacks" on poverty just don't work. The prime minister and the finance minister know this. They also know why it doesn't work.

It is not just corruption but also the fact that states are responsible for delivery. But Dr Singh and Mr Chidambaram will not act on their knowledge.

That is the true measure of the Indian tragedy today.

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1970 to 2004, in the past, then and now, things have remained where they were. While we have seen free doles for the poor and ...

Posted by J.N. Kini


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