One way in which the finance minister can get a good night's sleep is by popping an Alprax or two. But why would Pranab Mukherjee seek a little help from his sleeping pill pals when he can get his circadian rhythm — body clock, for the rest of you — back in shape by fixing a hole in the Indian economy? Well, partly because he is worried along with many others that he can't fix the hole. Which happens to be the UPA government's growing subsidy bill that has, on last count, gone over the Rs 1.4 lakh crore figure by another Rs 1 lakh crore. Mr Mukherjee, a veteran finance minister-cum-fire fighter, has his work cut out. But before he rolls up his sleeves to snip and tuck, the real challenge before the sleep deprived minister would be to convince his colleagues in other ministries, not to mention the 'politicos' in the Congress, that it's time for the government to dole out discount coupons that it can hardly afford.
The deficit could even make Mr Mukherjee, an otherwise very affable chap, cranky — and one isn't only talking about his sleep deficit but the nation's fiscal deficit. Added to the rising pile of costs that have been accruing because of a surge in subsidies, there's the migraine throb of not enough revenues being earned by the government in taxes. Earlier this week, Pranab-da had stated publicly that Indian industry will have to be prepared for higher taxes in the coming Budget. Alarm bells in certain quarters have already sounded even while India Inc is still pulling the pillow over its head.
Along with Wednesday's airing of his concern about "the enormity of the subsidies to be provided", Mr Mukherjee seems to be getting ready to say something that a lot of people won't like to hear come Budget Day on March 16. This is probably going to be that the UPA government, living way beyond its means, will have no giveaways to, well, give away and that the sleepless man in charge of the nation's purse strings may raise taxes to fill up hollow coffers. In other words, give everyone else — or, at least, the money-making lot — sleepless nights. Which, in turn could signal bad dreams for the Indian economic growth story.