Budget 2023-24, whose ‘Amrit Kaal’ and whose ‘Vish Kaal’?

  • Prakash Pohare

If the time of crisis is considered ‘Amrit Kaal’, then there isn’t any need to do anything, because everything goes on smoothly in ‘Amrit Kaal’! The budget presented by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman can also be said to be something similar. How much a Party is in favour of the public or the corporate companies, is understood not in the election-field, but through the budget. Grand speeches could be made in the election-field, a lot of promises could be made there, but nothing of the sort can be done in the budget. Therefore, to understand the fate of the ruling political party, one has to look at the budget presented by it. More importantly, the budget tells us what the government is doing with the money paid by the public through various taxes!

While presenting the budget, the Finance-Minister mentioned ‘Amrit Kaal’ this time. In fact, since the Modi government came to power, from 2014-15 to the time of presenting the budget for 2023-24, the contrasting words and actions of the government are clearly visible. Introducing the new concept of ‘Jan bhaagidaari’ (‘Public Participation’), this budget has been changed from ‘SabkaSaath, Sabka Vikas’ to ‘SabkaSaath, SabkaPrayas’. No matter how much the Modi government says that we are entering into an ‘Amrit Kaal’, but it seems to be a ‘Sankat Kaal’ (crisis) and gradually the general public will continue to realize it.

In such a ‘Sankat kaal’, the central government has presented the budget for 2023-24. In this budget, three major problems had to be faced and solutions had to be found. Those three crises are unemployment, agriculture and small-scale industries. This budget is completely disappointing on all the above three levels. Of course, the situation is ‘as it was’ since the 2015-16 budget! The first issue is that of farmers. The government is feeding the dose of production increase to the cotton producing farmers on the demand and need of the price of cotton. In fact, the import duty free cotton (3 lakh bales), by signing a free trade agreement with Australia, has brought down the price of cotton.

On July 23, 2021, a question was asked to the government. At that time, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said that in 2015-16, the average annual income of a farmer family in the country is Rs. 96,703 i.e. monthly income is Rs. 8,058. Using this formula, the figures for doubling farmers’ income were calculated. Now according to this formula, in 2022, the monthly income of the farmers should have been Rs. 16,116.But on December 16, 2022, the Agriculture-Minister, while answering a question in the Rajya Sabha, said that in 2022, the monthly income of the farmers was Rs. 10,218. While it was the government’s goal to double the average income of every farmer family by 2022, but it failed miserably.

In this year’s budget, the government has deliberately neglected the farmers. In last year’s budget, the government had allocated 3.84 per cent of the total budget for agriculture and related schemes. In this budget, it was reduced to 3.20 per cent. It was announced that the amount of ‘Kisan Samman Nidhi’ would be increased, but on the contrary, the total provision allocated for this scheme which was 68 thousand crore rupees was reduced by 8 thousand crore rupees to 60 thousand crore rupees. The provision for ‘Pradhan Mantri FasalBima Yojana’ has been reduced from Rs. 15,500 crores to Rs. 13,625 crores. So far, only 13 insurance companies have done a business of 72 thousand crores through the ‘FasalBima Yojana’. Out of this, only 25 thousand crores were paid to the farmers by these insurance companies in 6 years, i.e., roughly, in the scheme which benefitted the insurance companies by more than 50 thousand crore rupees and provided negligible benefits to the farmers so far, no amendment has been made in the budget. The budget envisages connecting 1 crore people to natural farming in 3 years, but what is the provision of subsidy for organic farming in the budget? This question has remained unanswered for the last six years. On the other hand, by imposing 12 to 18 percent GST on agricultural products, fertilizers, agricultural machinery, tractors and by cutting the subsidy on fertilizers by 25 thousand crores, and due to the wild increase in the prices of diesel, the cost of production has been doubled.

Lakhs of posts are currently vacant in many government sectors like railways, education, health. Nothing has been said in this budget about recruitment in these sectors. On the other hand, 89 thousand 400 crore rupees were spent last year for MGNREGA, which provides employment to crores of people in rural areas, but this year only 60 thousand crore rupees have been allocated for this scheme, which means a reduction of 30 thousand crores. Due to this, a huge crisis of employment has been looming in the agriculture sector. The budget of the Ministry of Agriculture has also not been increased. This government is only focusing on farmer drones and startups. Also, there is no experience that the current wave of startups in the agriculture sector is increasing the income of farmers. Overall, the government has neglected the agriculture sector and left the farmers completely in the lurch. ‘The income of the farmers was to be doubled by 2022, but what happened to it, is not mentioned in the budget.’

Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the country provide employment to about 11 crore people. This industry accounts for 28 percent of the GDP. These micro, small and medium industries were almost destroyed during demonetisation and Corona. This sector had high expectations from the budget, but it failed. The government recently announced the ‘Krishi Twarak Nidhi Yojana’, through which, an additional provision of Rs. 1.5 lakh crore was made for farmers’ loans. The announcement was made for increasing Rs. 20 lakh crores in agriculture credit cards, which was Rs.18.5 lakh crores last year. This means that the amount of the loan scheme has got increased by 1.5 lakhs. Instead, if the government had encouraged the micro, small and medium enterprises sector, a large number of jobs would have been created, but the government has lost that opportunity as well.

Now the question is of employment, for which we will have to remember the budget of 2022-23. To increase employment, Finance Minister Sitharaman had announced the ‘PLI Scheme’ (Production Linked Incentive Scheme) and had said that through this, 60 lakh jobs would be created in the next 5 years. An Oxfam report released at the end of last year says that 84 percent of people’s income has decreased since the Corona period, while the commission’s figure says that 40 percent of the middle class has been pushed towards poverty.12.5 crore people have lost their jobs. Economic inequality has increased a lot. At that time, only ‘PLI’ was announced regarding employment in the entire budget, but this time the word ‘employment’ did not appear even once in Nirmala Sitharaman’s entire speech, while the word ‘unemployment’ was removed while presenting the budget for the last three times. How can there be unemployment in ‘Amrit Kaal’? May be that’s why it might not have been mentioned!

‘There is only talk of us being ahead in comprehensive reforms in the financial sector. Through indirect tax, the burden of taxes on the public is increased and on the other hand the tax on the industrialists is reduced. In 2010, the company tax was 39.11 per cent, which has come down to 15 per cent,’ while on the other hand ‘tax on petrol and diesel has been increased by almost 300 per cent. What does it represent? The government is filling the coffers of the wealthy. Due to this, the wealth of this corporate lobby increased by 40 percent even during the post-corona ravaged Indian economy. During the current financial crisis, the corporate lobby is taking huge concessions from the government and investing that money in the stock market. Due to these reasons, the stock market was booming even when the economy was in recession. The word ‘inquiry’ was not even uttered by the government in the wake of the corporate frauds exposed by the Hindenburg Report. The government is far from strengthening the regulatory system and making financial institutions like SEBI, the insurance regulator and the Reserve Bank more powerful and efficient. About Rs 3.5 lakh crores of 10 crore investors (mostly rural) of 169 companies like PACL in the country are stuck even after the decision of the Supreme Court. The rulers have nothing to do with it. Overall, it is a budget that caters to the needs of companies and covers their scams. It is certain that Modi’s blind followers will not take any lesson from the fact that corporate companies have entered ‘Amrit Kaal’ in true sense and it has become ‘Vish Kaal’ for common people, but it is expected that now, the common man will be intuitive and will wake up to all this. (The author is the editor-in-chief of Dainik Deshonnati, Hindi daily Rashtra Prakash and weekly Krishikonnati)

The author can be contacted on 9822593921