The Congress’s expectations from the budget arise from and fall within the parameters of the Congress manifesto and the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme. A ruling party can propose, but it is the government which disposes and has both constitutional limitations as also a wider responsibility towards all stakeholders.
The Congress philosophy is one of inclusive growth where Gandhiji’s common man is the prime focus. The bottom of the pyramid is vital, and though the other echelons of the pyramid are not to be ignored, the Congress does not believe that, sans affirmative, tailored programmes for that bottom end of the pyramid, one can rely only on market forces and the multiplier effect to see the benefits of growth percolating to the deprived.
While appreciating the dilemmas of the government, which has multiple competing demands and limited resources, the Congress nevertheless believes that the balance has to be struck in favour of the more marginal groups. Hence, social infrastructure—education, health and water—must continue to get the priority they got in the last budget.
The budget must take care to apportion significant and meaningful shares to sectors like urban employment, poverty alleviation, labour, minority affairs, land resources, healthy and family welfare and women and child development.
Agriculture and its ancillaries must get top priority. Focus on irrigation facilities, development of rural infrastructure, crop diversification and a real increase in farm credit is needed.
On the taxation front, an integrated goods and service tax (GST) can be considered, to reduce the cost of transactions and enhance competitiveness. Some degree of rationalisation of excise upon oil is necessary to harmonise domestic aspirations with the need to balance the budget. Taxes and duties on the housing sector must be lowered.
Farm subsidies cannot be eliminated and tax incentives should be considered for R & D on agriculture. The power sector needs a fillip and allowing regulated access to private venture capital funds can be considered in this sector. Lack of funds in this sector provides a stark contrast to the other success stories such as telecom.
Prices have come under control after commendable effort. No budgetary laxity can allow inflationary pressures to be built up.
(Abhishek Singhvi is the MP, Congress)