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Union budget: I am upset about drop in real, nominal allocations for weaker sections

By Bharat Dogra 

After listening to the budget speech (for the union budget of 2023-24), my general knowledge on many issues ranging from diamonds to millets to rare chemicals improved. My world view became more optimistic after being reminded repeatedly that despite the survival crisis engulfing the entire planet, I am fortunate, oh ever so fortunate to be living in nothing less than Amrit Kaal.
Despite these and sundry other benefits, unfortunately I did not achieve the main aim with which I sat down to listen to the budget speech—that of getting a broad understanding, a balanced and accurate understanding of my country’s finances, fiscal policy and budget allocations.
The finance minister said while coming to personal income tax proposals that this is what most people have been waiting for, but as an ordinary middle class person I am not much interested in knowing whether I have to pay a few hundred or thousand rupees more or less in income tax. What concerns me much more—and I am sure the honorable finance minister would like to encourage such interest among ordinary citizens—is what impact the government’s fiscal policy has on my poorest fellow-citizens and children in the country.
Hence I was highly interested in knowing the allocations for NREGA, for the National Social Assistance Program, for anganwadi, for mid-day meals, for the various other allocations related to the national food security law (including food subsidy) as well as for various other programs and schemes which have a very close relationship to the well-being of the poorer and weaker sections of our society. On this, for the most part, I did not hear anything, and whatever little I heard related to a very selective presentation from the perspective of government achievements.
Like all citizens I am happy when my government achieves something genuinely good, but as a socially conscious citizen I also like to have a more complete view. A reference to budget documents for getting the information on schemes and programs more important for poorer and vulnerable sections revealed some very upsetting facts about the drop in real as well as nominal allocations for weaker sections.
I was very keen also to know the impact of this budget on an issue of growing concern—increasing inequalities. On this also I did not get much significant information in the budget speech (only a few indications), but the disturbing trend towards inequality obviously continues.
Millions listen to the budget speech, and the public discourse which immediately follows is heavily influenced by it. For any government genuinely interested in transparency and a well-informed discussion and dialogue on the budget, resulting in the likely emergence of good suggestions as well, it will be very useful to try to ensure that the budget speech presents as comprehensive a view of the most important aspects of the budget as possible, with special emphasis on those aspects which impact the poor and vulnerable sections.
Further, a copy of such a comprehensive budget speech in English, Hindi and main regional languages should be readily available on-line. This would be very helpful for a much more meaningful dialogue resulting in the availability of better suggestions and feedback also to the government.
Of course one is aware that there are so many aspects of budget and it is not possible to cover all this in an 80 to 90 minute budget speech. However, a better effort to provide much more significant information on the top priority, real priority issues can still be made. This will help to make the budget speech a much more valuable document and a reference point for discussion and research in the country and in fact all over the world.
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The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘A Day in 2071’, ‘Planet in Peril’ and ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food’

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