Because this has been seen as the pre-general election budget of the UPA government, it was widely projected to be a ‘people-friendly’ budget.
What is surprising in this context, is how little the Finance Minister has actually bothered about ensuring the budgetary allocations that would benefit the people, and particularly those who have already been hard hit by the growing material insecurities and widening economic disparities of recent years.
If one looks beyond the verbiage of the Budget Speech to the actual allocations, this Budget provides next to nothing in terms of increased outlays for the critical areas that affect basic conditions or the potential areas of concern in the immediate future. Essentially, these areas relate to food security and nutrition, health, education and social security.
Consider first the problem of food and nutrition. The current economic context is one in which food price inflation has emerged as a major area of concern. It is likely to get worse rather than better in the near future, because global prices of essential food grains are rising and domestic procurement prices must also rise accordingly if the government is to be in a position to procure food grain for the Public Distribution System and other uses like the Mid-day Meals Scheme.
Therefore, this is a context in which the expectation is of a rise in food subsidy to o ensure adequate procurement and prevent basic food prices from going up too much for retail consume. However, the allocation for the food subsidy shows hardly any increase, from Rs 31,546 crore now to a proposed outlay of Rs 32,667 crore next year.
(Jayati Ghosh is an Economist)