What ordinary Indians are expecting from Modi government's last full Budget
This year's budget assumes greater importance for the boost it can provide to the economy.
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The Union Budget 2018 is scheduled to be presented on February 1. Since this is going to be the last full Budget of Modi government's first term in office, a slew of populist measures are not ruled out. While the Budget for 2019 is scheduled just before the code of conduct for the next general elections comes into force, this year's budget assumes even greater importance for the boost it can provide to the economy besides serving the interests of each section of our diverse population.
The focus of this Budget has to be the agricultural sector - the foundation of our rural economy. While there seems to be no choice but to hike the MSP for farmers amid the continuing agrarian stress coupled with declining output of most agricultural products compared to the year gone by, checking food inflation is going to be a big challenge for the finance minister.
While the pressures of pre-election spending might force the government not to relent on any further reductions in the corporate tax, concessions in personal tax may also have to be marginal this year, with a bigger relief coming only in the 2019 Budget.
Another major challenge is reviving corporate investments, which alone can largely help in creating jobs in the private sector.
On the jobs front, with 10 million Indians entering the workforce every year, supporting the private sector to launch new facilities and small-scale manufacturing activities can be the only answer to reduce the gap between the number of aspirants and gainful jobs being available.
Benefits of schemes such as MUDRA should be thrown open to senior citizens in the age group of 65 to 75 to help create employment in start-ups based on their lifelong experience and skills. Despite all the thrust in schemes and campaigns like MUDRA, Make In India and Stand Up India, just about 1,35,000 new jobs could be created in 2015 as against over four lakhs each during 2013 and 2014, according to official statistics of the Labour Bureau. Another survey highlighted the increase in the unemployment rate in households to 5 per cent in 2016-2017 against 4.7 per cent in 2013 and 4.9 per cent in 2014.
The Small and medium enterprises and micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs and MSMEs) need to be incentivised further to successfully create more jobs in the labour-intensive activity, which is and can be the largest employing sector.
The pressure for creating jobs in the government sector, however, will have to be appropriately rationalised by synergising the overlapping roles of various ministries and their departments. There is a strong need to cut down the flab in the government departments and reduce the number of levels and layers often doing nothing but writing down "may kindly see", "FYI", "forwarded please" in the files adding neither value nor substance to proposals put up for approval.
One hopes this Budget will see some substantive measures for the welfare of senior citizens, especially those surviving without any regular income, pensions or any other forms of social security cover by liberally exempting their interest incomes from the decades-old cascading taxation (over and above what they have already paid during active years of their earning). They government will hopefully subsidise the their health insurance premium through direct transfer in their bank accounts linked with Aadhaar.
In addition to that, the outlays for education and healthcare must also be suitably enhanced to further follow the PM's vision of "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao". Privatisation of both education and healthcare sectors should be slowed down with more facilities added under the government's direct control and management - mostly on the lines of PSUs.
There may not be any need to enhance the outlays for Swachh Bharat projects since the average Indian's behaviour as well as habit towards this basic concern still continues to demand a much higher thrust for voluntary services by one and all.
Infra projects would need to retain the priorities assigned in the last three budgets with a stronger focus on outlays sanctioned for faster execution of each. Cigarette, tobacco, pan and bidi must be made further cost prohibitive with the rationalisation of GST on petroleum products and alcohol across all states.