If you happen to watch the business channels these days, all of them want to sensationalise and make news of something there is no news about. these news channels survive on sensationalising the banal. That's exactly the thing they are doing with the upcoming budget. they have already labeled it as the "Big B" (The original Big B must be squirming at the thought of this unlikely and banal competition).
What can be reasonably expected by the budget?
1. Income tax slabs will be raised to make way for the 6th pay commission. may be the lowest slab will be up from Rs.150000 to 200000.
2. A broad and vague statement about GST to be introduced will be spoken of with a deadline of three to four years so that the listeners will feel good about some progress in the administration and the practitioners will also feel good that it is not coming soon yet.
3. A proposal for disinvestment to bridge the gap in the fiscal deficit will also be talked of and an arrangement of selling equity in PSUs to other PSUs will be taken up to satiate the views of people hankering for fiscal prudence. Whether it is fiscal prudence to disinvest by transferring the money from one pocket of the government to the other pocket is a debatable point.
4. The recent success of farm loan waiver in the electoral hustings is bound to cast its shadow (or should I call it lustre) on the budget and there will be a constituency which would hanker for more of the same. This constituency will surely be catered to, and an announcement in some form or the other can be expected out of this budget too.
5. NREGS will also become a mainstream project of the government, given the keen interest of the family in the project. An announcement of extension and raised "deficit funded" programme can be expected on this subject.
6. Securities Transaction Tax, the slow poison affecting the stock markets and the Commodities Transaction Tax the poor cousin of the STT will remain the same and no reprieve on these items can be expected.
7. Some superficial and cosmetic changes can be expected in the indirect taxes system to make it look market friendly. Here the phrase "look market friendly" is important.
8. Education seems to be the new frontier where the government will show its keen interest. especially Higher education, rightly so when we have a former UGC chairman as the Head of the cabinet. More central universities, IITs, NITs, can be expected to be announced in this budget. We can also expect at least 5 universities to get a substantial largess to augment their resources.
9. Defence expenditure would go up by 20%, this has become an annual feature now with the prevailing Geo-political situation.
10. Setting up of a new force of the type of NSG/RAF may be announced to combat internal insurgents.
11. Some politicians are vying for a special status for the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, Bihar, etc., these may see the light of the day and some package can be expected for Hyderabad-Karnataka region and Bihar in an attempt to woo non-congress voters there.
On the topic of special status, one thought crosses the mind, Article 370 gives a special status to J&K and politicians from congress have been talking about a similar status to Telangana, Goa north-east, etc. Does this mean that we are heading towards a decentralised system of governance? Are we heading towards a federal system with a weak centre and strong regional states? only time will tell.
So, if this is reasonably expected of the budget in general, one has to stop and think whether it is really the "BIG B " as our media wants us to believe. I remember economic times portraying a caricature of honourable Shri. P Chidambaram as the superman during the 1997 budget. Ten years ago it was for the print media to raise the hype, now its the turn of the electronic media to do the same. The reach and impact of electronic media is deeper and broader. If the media starts encouraging false hopes and sensationalising no news as BIG NEWS then the nation will be in for a big surprise. It seems that the present electronic media has taken upon itself the mantle of changing the opinions in the country. This type of sensationalism in the electronic media and instant justice meted out to people via the media will not get them anywhere. People are bound to realise sooner or later that the "BIG B" is also same as the case of "prince stuck in the bore well" or "A man who prophesied his death" or "leopard in somebody's house" or "injured tigress on the road". All these media stories took up nearly 48 hours of national TV space at one time or the other leaving aside grave issues like hoisting of the Pakistan flag at Srinagar.
Any way This budget as I see it is going to be a non-event and I pray that I will be proved wrong. Over to Honourable Shri Pranab Mukherjee to to the Honours.