With the Lok Sabha elections around the corner, Interim Union Budget 2019 was touted as the last opportunity for the Narendra Modi-led BJP government to do something to fulfil at least a part of the poll promises made to the electorate. Observers anticipated that the BJP might be forced to announce some measures to placate farmers and workers who have been joining massive protests across the country against the policies of the central government.
It was widely speculated that the government might resort to declaring farm loan waivers, new welfare schemes and tax sops to woo the voters. But doing so would require higher fiscal outlays, which might add to the fiscal deficit and worry conservative sections and financial interests which are seen to be supportive of the BJP. Economists were eager to see how the Finance Minister, who had worked as the BJP treasurer, would tackle the situation.
After interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal presented the interim Union Budget, top announcements included exemption from Income Tax those with income upto Rs. 5 lakh per annum, mega pension scheme for the unorganised sector, Rs. 6,000 per annum income support for small farmers with land up to 2 hectares and an AIIMS to be set up in Haryana. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that this is an Interim Budget. That this is just a trailer of the budget which, after election, will take India on the path to development.
Also Read: Budget 2019 Highlights: Income Tax Rebate, Rs. 500 Income Support for Farmers, Fiscal deficit is at 3.4%
The government presented a budget with big giveaways to the middle class, farmers and the rural population, in what is being seen as a critical test for PM Modi months before the elections.
Reacting on Twitter, former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh said the interim budget presented will have implications on the general elections due in May.
Sitaram Yechury tweeted, “There is no Economic Survey. So, there is no data on which the exercise today is based. #interimBudget.” In another tweet, he said, “Promises made today are not worth the paper they are written on. Modi govt. came to power in 2014 promising 10 crore new jobs, 100 new smart cities, doubling of farmers income & 15 lakh in each bank account. This is another attempt to fool people before polls but it won’t succeed.”
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M] tweeted, “Transferring money to account would exclude tenant farmers, who are among the poorest.”
“Govt. claims it will transfer the amount in 3 instalments of 2000 each. One bag of DAP costs Rs. 1200. What will they cover out of Rs 2000?” said another tweet by the CPI(M).
Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi, tweeted, “Final jumla of Modi govt.: it’s interim budget too completely disappoints Delhi. Our share in central taxes remains frozen at Rs. 325 crore & nothing earmarked for local bodies. Delhi continues to be on its own financially.”
Jignesh Mevani, MLA, Gujarat, tweeted, “Absolute shocker! #Budget2019 does not even address the record unemployment rates announced by NSSO yesterday. Since independence, this is the most Anti-Youth budget presented! I cannot believe that there is no announcement about creating jobs at all.”
Outside Parliament, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor told media persons, “The whole exercise has turned out to be a damp squib. We’ve seen one good thing that is tax exemption for the middle class. Rs. 6000 in income support for farmers boils down to Rs. 500 per month. Is that supposed to enable them to live with honour & dignity?”
Agricultural economist and the Infosys chair in agriculture at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), Ashok Gulati said, “This is too little, too late.” He added, “At Rs. 500 per month, it will amount to less than 1/15th of an average household’s income. Per annum, it’s peanuts.” He suggested that if the government really wanted to make a difference through an income support scheme, it should double the amount given by reducing some food and fertiliser subsidies.
“It has been done half-heartedly,” said agriculture and food policy expert Devinder Sharma. “I don’t know how you can pull farmers out of distress and prevent farmer suicides with just ₹500 per month…The government has given much bigger support to middle class through tax breaks. This is a middle-class-centric budget, not a farmer-centric budget.”
Also Read: The Agrarian Crisis and Unemployment Have Peaked Over the Past Five Years
P Chidambaram, former Finance Minister in a press conference said that the interim Union Budget seemed like a last gasp announcement and while there were a lot of announcements, they would have to look into the details to corroborate whether the numbers would match their proposal or if the numbers were just an eye wash. Pointing out the usage of mixed language, he said, “Those who understand only Hindi didn’t understand one half of the budget and those who knew only English did not understand the other half. Perhaps, the intention of the government was clearly to confuse the people of this country.”
Congress’s official twitter handle tweeted, “BJP claims their measures have helped non-performing loans, if that were true the economy wouldn’t be burdened by Rs. 10,25,000 cr worth of NPAs. #Budget2019 #AakriJumlaBudget”
Yogendra Yadav tweeted, “#Budget2019 actually rubs salt in the wounds of farmers. The ‘historic’ 6,000 rupees a year for a family of 5 translates to Rs. 3.3 a day. This is even lower than MNREGA or old-age pension.”
There were many others who stripped the figures spouted by Goyal threadbare, doing their own calculations and fact checks to exposes what they called #AaakhriJumla.
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