Budget 2019: Behind Chest Thumping, Cuts in Welfare and Silence on Jobs -Subodh Varma
The Interim Budget granted a paltry Rs 500 per month to farmers as relief, fund cuts for dalits, adivasis and minorities, and was silent on agricultural and industrial workers.
It was the theatre of absurd in the Lok Sabha on Friday as replacement Finance Minister Piyush Goyal presented the Interim Budget through an election speech, tom-tomming the so-called achievements of the Narendra Modi government over the past five years, offering an insulting Rs.500 per month as “relief” for small and marginal farmers, blithely skimming over the raging crisis of unemployment and heralding a 10-dimensional vision for the coming decade. All the while, BJP MPs could be seen energetically thumping their desks and calling out “Wah! Wah” (kudos) as if they were attending a kavi sammelan (poetry session).
What the Budget papers reveal, however, is an unmitigated attack on a range of welfare schemes, especially those directed at dalits, adivasis, minorities, and a general slashing of funds for state supported provision of education and healthcare. Instead, funds were made readily available for the discredited Ayushman Bharat type of insurance schemes, although even those are far from what was claimed.
Hot Air for Farmers & Unorganised Sector Workers
The big-ticket announcement of Rs.500 per month “income supplement” for farmers having less than two hectares land will imply an expenditure of at least Rs.75,000 crore because as per the latest 2015-16 Agricultural Census, there are about 12.56 crore such farmers in the country, making up 86% of all farmers. The Budget documents give no clue about where this huge amount is going to come from. But that is typical of the Modi government – make the declaration and worry about the implementation later. Such was the desperation that Rs.20,000 crore was injected into the current year’s revised estimate with just two months to go before the financial year ends. This hare-brained scheme is unlikely to help Modi and his party, the BJP, in the elections because it doesn’t give much to the suffering farmer, and its implementation is fraught with uncertainty because land titles will need to be checked, lists made and so on.
The case of the other big scheme – pension for unorganised sector workers – is even worse. Just Rs.500 crore have been allocated for this scheme which won’t even begin to cover a fraction of the estimated 40 crore workers. At Rs.3,000 per month, the monthly bill itself would be Rs. 1.2 lakh crore. It’s a cruel joke.
The rural jobs guarantee scheme (MGNREGS) was allocated just Rs.60,000 crore, compared with Rs.61,084 crore spent in the current year. This cut is not understandable because in the current year, spending had shot up by over Rs.6,000 crore over the Budget allocation. Yet the government continues to cut funds for the only scheme that provides some relief to people suffering the twin blows of unemployment and farm crisis. Similarly, the social assistance programme (NSAP) which includes old age and widow pensions, suffered a cut from previous year.
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