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Pawar just juggles with the numbers

Finance minister presents surplus budget, but doesn’t address pressing concerns such as negative agricultural growth, or try to boost employment.

mumbai Updated: Mar 27, 2012 01:25 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times

He was expected to find solutions to the state’s decline in growth, negative agriculture growth, spiralling debt and escalating administrative costs in his second state budget, but deputy chief minister and finance minister Ajit Pawar has disappointed experts and analysts who had these high expectations.

All Pawar managed was to skirt a deficit budget and pull out a surplus of Rs152 crore for this year. Experts said the first budget of the 12th five-year plan is a damp squib.

Here’s why. The state’s public debt is estimated to touch Rs 2.53 lakh crore at the end of 2012-13, making Maharashtra the most indebted state in India.

The state’s administrative costs, including its wage bill and interest payments, amount to more than 63% of its revenues.

But Pawar has not touched upon any of these worrisome issues in his budget.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan defended the debt by pointing out that it is within the norms laid down by the Centre (at 18.8% of the Gross State Domestic Product).

Of the proposed annual plan of Rs45,000 crore, only Rs1,087 crore has been allocated for new development schemes. The remaining is to meet the needs of ongoing projects.

Pawar has not taken any initiative to address concerns relating to negative agriculture growth of -9% or reduced foodgrain production in the state. Nor has he touched upon plans to spur growth and employment.

“He had the opportunity to lay down the road map for the 12th five-year plan. He could have introduced development schemes or addressed issues of financial discipline. The budget is a mere jugglery of figures,” said Priya Khan, director of Socio Political and Research Kendra, which analyses state budget and government policies.

Khan said the expenditure had been kept minimal to avoid deficit and overall spending would go up through supplementary budgets. This will lead to changes in estimates for the next year, which is what happened the last time.

Last year, Pawar had forecasted a surplus budget at Rs 58 crore, but this was revised to Rs 2,058-crore deficit budget.

“The state can’t increase development spending unless it shows surplus so it must have forced planners to show a surplus,” said V Ranganathan, former state chief secretary. “Fiscal discipline is tough given political priorities, but the budget should have addressed long-term issues.”

“We have not reduced allocation to ongoing development schemes despite the tight financial situation. On the whole, I have tried to balance between development needs and the need to increase resources. We have also tried to bring in financial discipline by streamlining tax procedures,” Pawar said.

First Published: Mar 27, 2012 01:21 IST