Budget 2008-09 brings the rural economy to center stage. The finance minister has made a bold attempt to lift the Indian agriculture from the quagmire of low productivity, price uncertainty and inadequate access to inputs. Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver, a welcome step no doubt, should also make us pledge that the Indian farmer will never be allowed to fall in this state of distress again. It should also be the beginning of a process of modernisation and restructuring of Indian agriculture. Chidambaram has announced measures that would ensure sustainability and consolidation of the higher growth orbit that the economy has entered by increasing consumption in both rural and urban sectors.
Measures such as increased budget provision for irrigation projects will strengthen our agricultural sector. In addition, the setting up of the Irrigation and Water Resources Finance Corporation, initiation and completion of major irrigation projects, mobile soil testing laboratories and additional support to the National Horticulture Mission are important supporting mechanisms that would give a fillip to the agriculture sector.
The budget has also focused on key social infrastructure, like education and health, through a series of forward-looking announcements and increasing allocation significantly. The shift in focus from access to enhancing retention and quality of education is noteworthy. The five-year tax holiday proposed for hospitals located in tier 2 and 3 class towns are encouraging steps for private sector participation in expanding and improving healthcare in smaller towns of our country.
India has a demographic advantage with a high and rising proportion of population in the working age group. Mr. Chidambaram has rightly highlighted the need for skill development by announcing establishment of a not-for-profit Corporation for world-class skill development programmes in a mission mode.
The Finance Minister has also announced measures that will provide a stimulus to the manufacturing sector. He has rightly identified a few sectors, which are growth and employment drivers, for special attention.
Despite unsettling times in a global context, we have the cushion of a huge domestic market - one that should translate into greater tax buoyancy as well. It is therefore a campaign budget - a campaign for the poor and marginalized. Budget 2008 takes up their cause by providing increased benefits for childcare and greater impetus to education for the girl child, especially among the scheduled castes and schedules tribes, older people and social welfare recipients. I am convinced that Budget 2008 reflects responsiveness to dire needs of the less-privileged sections of our society.
Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director, Reliance Industries Limited