The Union budget has finally put to rest all speculation about the new government’s vision for the economy. Sceptics have been blown away by the splendiferous vision unveiled in the budget. “My aim,” said the finance minister, “is to lay down a broad policy indicator of the direction in which we wish to take this country.” And further, “We shall leave no stone unturned in creating a vibrant and strong India.”
The nation waited with bated breath. Would he start cutting subsidies enjoyed by people who are far from poor? Would he prune the size of the government, as indicated in the ‘minimum government’ slogan? Would he start scrapping obsolete labour laws that benefit only the labour aristocracy and prevent the creation of new jobs?
No, this bold new vision is very different. Hold your breath, here it comes. “I propose to reduce the Basic Customs Duty on: Fatty acids, crude palm stearin, RBD and other palm stearin, specified industrial grade crude oils from 7.5% to Nil for manufacture of soaps and oleo-chemicals,” thundered the finance minister.
Folks just haven’t been washing enough, with soap prices so high. The duty reduction will make India clean, vibrant, soapy and strong. Note how cleverly it fits into the government’s resolve ‘to cover every household by total sanitation’.
Total sanitation is not just a toilet in every home, but also soap and toilet paper. In a masterstroke, the move dovetails into the increase in the free baggage allowance, allowing travellers to get even more soaps into the country.
Another big problem faced by the nation has been the shortage of spandex yarn.
Superhero outfits are made of spandex and budding Indian superheroes have been stymied by its high cost. That issue has been solved, with zero customs duties on ‘specified inputs for manufacture of spandex yarn’. In a radical tax reform, duties on footwear have been made progressive, with higher rates on higher-priced shoes. Duties on sports gloves have been reduced to ensure excellence in sports. `100 crore has been set aside for promoting “Good Governance”.
Another clear policy indicator is the emphasis on cute acronyms. Communication Linked Interface for Cultivating Knowledge (CLICK), Producers Development and Upliftment Corpus (PRODUCE), Pashmina Promotion Programme (P-3), National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD), National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) all indicate the hard work put in by the government.
Almost everything in the budget will apparently be done by PPP. What on earth is it? It can’t be Public Private Partnership, because that has been a disaster.
Is it Politically Popular Panacea? Pale Porcelain Princess? Nope, I think it’s that awesome super-weapon — Power Point Presentation — deadlier than even the Finance Minister’s “Ultra-Modern Super Critical Coal Based Thermal Power Technology”. No wonder it’s mentioned thirteen times in the budget speech.
Next, in a breath-taking breakthrough in farming, ‘landless farmers’ will be provided finance. The money will be used by those landless farmers to farm their landless farms.
But what is the point of such a grandiose vision if you can’t communicate it? Hence Kisan TV, a TV channel for the north-east and reduction of customs duties on LCD and LED TV panels below 19 inches.
Lastly, for such visionary ideas to sprout abundantly, a healthy dose of organic manure is necessary. That is why the service tax on transport of organic manure has been lifted.
(Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint. The views expressed by the author are personal.)