Finance minister Capt Abhimanyu’s 63-minute budget speech in the Vidhan Sabha on Tuesday was statistically-loaded and ran into 28 pages of 5,940 words. Navneet Sharma cuts through the jugglery of numbers and financial jargon to bring out the key programmes, personalities, political mood and message that shaped the first BJP government’s maiden budget.
With the state government facing the heat over urea shortage and compensation for crop damage due to rains, the finance minister spent considerable time speaking on the sector, new schemes and the farmers’ well-being before allocating `2,636 crore for the sector, an increase of 10.1% over the revised estimates of 2014-15. The primary sector has been stagnating, reporting negative growth in four of the last 10 years.
The girl child has been at the centre of attention of the saffron party’s government since PM Narendra Modi chose Panipat to launch the Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao programme two months ago. The finance minister made mention of the three schemes, Beti Bachao ASHA Protsahan Yojana, the Apki Beti-Hamari Beti Scheme and the Kanya Kosh Scheme, started by his govt in recent months.
Unlike most of his predecessors, Capt Abhimanyu shared the limelight on the day of presentation of his maiden budget speech with his core team from the finance department that prepared the budget documents. The picture was released by the PR department. There was another picture of the finance minister and his family. The family heard the speech, sitting in the first row of the visitors’ gallery.
Barely two weeks after it expressed concern regarding increased borrowings in recent years for repaying old debts and meeting non-plan expenditure, the government has projected a sharp jump in the borrowing in its budget for the next financial year. The state’s debt is set to rise to `98,843 cr in 2015-16 from `81,836 cr in 2014-15. The debt liability has more than quadrupled since 2004-05 when it was `23,320 cr.
Like its predecessors, the new BJP government has also continued its support to the power sector, with roughly `5,624 crore, out of the total allocation of `6,546 crore, going as rural electrification subsidy. On the plan side, `917.5 crore has been allocated. Of this, a sum of `800 crore is for the 800 MW super-critical thermal power unit planned at Panipat at a cost of `4,000 crore.
A cause of serious concern, the fiscal health of the economy has left the FM with few options except to depend on more borrowings to meet the rising expenditure. The revenue deficit has been pegged at `9,557 crore, 1.83% of GSDP. The fiscal deficit is estimated to be 3.14% in 2015-16. As the state has failed to eliminate revenue deficit and contain fiscal deficit, a new set of targets will be set for the next five years.
In power in the state on its own for the first time, the saffron party leaders never miss an opportunity to make highfalutin statements about their idea of governance. The FM’s speech was also in cadence, promising a “paradigm shift”. The new government, according to him, will be guided by sound economic principles and prudent choices in contrast to the governance style driven by political opportunism hitherto.
Kundli-Manesar-Palwal (KMP) Expressway and Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal were announced with great fanfare, but are lying incomplete for different reasons. The FM’s speech mentioned the two projects, stating that their expeditious completion, besides the linking of the BML-Hansi Butana multipurpose link channel, was a priority for the government.
With the government keen on using IT in government, the FM’s speech aptly reflected its focus on e-governance through the ‘CM Window’ web portal launched for effective citizen grievance redressal. Besides auction of liquor vends through e-tendering, a comprehensive e-enabled hospital management system and 150 web-enabled services will be rolled out in 2015-16.
The state of Haryana will enter the 50th (Golden Jubilee) year of its existence on November 1. “This is an occasion for the people of Haryana and for all of us in this House to remember the contributions of those who made the formation of Haryana possible,” the FM said in his speech. However, no amount was set aside – token or otherwise – for the celebrations.
‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’, ‘Make in India’, ‘e-Governance, Effective Governance’, ‘end-to-end e-solution’ and ‘Karmyogi chief minister Manohar Lal’ were some of the catchy words used by the FM to communicate the maxims his government believes in. A few of these already figure in the governance mantras of the government at the centre.
The 10-year rule of the Cong (without directly naming the party) was termed as “a decade of lost opportunities” with the failure to address the emerging challenges leading to structural imbalances in the state economy. Though the Cong MLAs were present, they didn’t demur. The FM then talked about the possibility of a double-digit growth in the next two years.
Media in full strength
The media, both print and electronic, was present in full strength and the journalists’ gallery was jam-packed. There was confusion when the assembly staff ran out of copies of the speech. A number of TV channels had also parked their OB vans outside the assembly to telecast the budget speech and the FM’s post-budget press conference.
As expected, the budget speech was full of praise for PM Narendra Modi and his government at the Centre, the change in national political environment and the resultant positive forecasts about India’s growth prospects. The FM had an entire section on his vision, initiatives and impact, stating: “We are standing at the cusp of a historic moment of our nation.”
Unlike most previous budgets when officers’ gallery used to be jam-packed, the attendance of senior officers was somewhat thin on Tuesday. There were several empty chairs in the gallery next to the treasury benches. A few of those could be seen sauntering in and out. The finance team was very much there in full strength, though.
A push to asset creation and infrastructure development is evident from the jump of 16.44% in the annual plan outlay to take it to `25,743 crore, including central assistance for centrally sponsored schemes, in 2015-16 from the revised estimates of `22,109 crore for 2014-15. Then, there is the off-budget outlay of public sector enterprises and local bodies.
After his speech, the FM came with his top officers for the press meet. Dressed in a steel-grey bandhgala jacket with a Mont Blanc in pocket, Capt Abhimanyu took questions for 30 minutes. Before he could leave, Congress leaders Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Randeep Singh Surjewala walked in. They warmly shook hands. Later, the duo criticised his budgetary proposals.
Relief in taxes
The FM did not bite the bullet despite the fiscal constraints and stuck to the tradition of not announcing any new tax proposals in his first budget. But he has removed the VAT on bio-fertilisers and reduced the rate of tax on LED lights, pipe-fittings and prefabricated steel structures. On the possibility of new taxes in the coming months, no commitment was given.
The election slogan, ‘Sabka Saath-Sabka Vikas’ was the buzzword. Calling the oft-used slogan his party’s national motto of governance, the FM not just mentioned it in the open paras, but also wound up his speech with it to underline his government’s belief in providing “equal opportunity to all sections of society to grow and proper”.
Tech-tonic for MLAs
As the state government provided the budget documents in compact discs (CDs) to all the MLAs, the FM read out midway through his speech what all key budget documents it contains. Before he started his address, the MLAs were informed that they would also be given a laptop with printer as per their entitlement. Similar CDs were to be given to journalists, but many didn’t get and had to wait for the department to upload the budget on their website.
As most of the BJP legislators are first-timers, they appeared extremely enthusiastic on the occasion of the first budget of their government. The MLAs thumped their desks 30 times during the finance minister’s budget address. Every time, the minister spoke of increase in allocation or any initiative of the central government, they thumped their desk to express their appreciation.
VAT and other taxes
After the economic slowdown, the state has now started counting on the improving economic scenario for a 16.5% jump in its tax revenue, taking it up from `33,402 crore in 2014-15 (revised estimates) to `38,929 crore in 2015-16 (budget estimates). Value-added tax (VAT), which has driven the tax revenue growth in the past, is estimated to contribute `22,821 crore.
He is the one who powered their rise, but the budget document has got the spelling of his name wrong. The finance minister’s speech mentioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name twice. While it was spelled wrongly as “Narender” in the first reference in the section on external environment, they got it right the second time. To err, they say,is human.
Call it a directional shift or a focus on asset creation, the new BJP government has tried to correct the ratio of non-plan and plan fund allocation. While the non-plan and plan fund allocation ratio was 70:30 in the previous year, it is 67:33 this time, meaning thereby that more funds will be available for infrastructure development and creation of productive assets.
Yoga and sports
With yoga guru Ramdev as the state government’s brand ambassador for yoga and ayurveda, it was but natural that the activity would find mention in the annual budget. The state is launching a ‘yoga and vyayamshala programme’ at the panchayat and block level. The ‘Haryana Sports and Physical Fitness Policy-2015’ for sports promotion also found a mention.
Zero sum on promises
The BJP promised just about everything – from monthly allowance for unemployed youth and better pay to state employees to laptops for meritorious Class 10 & 12 students and bus passes to girl students – in its poll manifesto. But none of these found mention. The FM promised bajra and maize to poor families at `1 per kg next year, though. Asked about poll promises, he said the manifesto was for 5 years.