With an ocean of salt -Rajeev Gowda

-The Indian Express

Interim budget does little to tackle unemployment, poverty. And it is clear that the government’s figures cannot be trusted.

Last month, I was part of an all-party delegation of MPs from Karnataka, led by a Union cabinet minister, who met the Union rural development minister. We requested him to release the MGNREGA funds overdue to Karnataka. We pleaded that the poorest of the poor, who turn to MGNREGA as a lifeline, were being discouraged from accessing the programme as they were not being paid for a long time because the Centre had not released the funds they owed to the states. Therefore, when I hear Piyush Goyal announce big amounts as funds allocated to MGNREGA, I can only respond with a weary laugh.

Goyal has learned the art of hype well from his prime minister. But the voters know better and will confront them with reality in a few months. For where voters had been promised Rs 15 lakh in their Jan Dhan accounts, only a few farming families will receive a pittance of Rs 3.30 per day. When the average loan burden is Rs 45,000, they will receive Rs 6,000 per year, far lower than the income transfers offered by Telangana and Odisha, and a far distance from being debt free as envisioned by Congress state governments.

The interim budget is overflowing with announcements aimed at targeting different sections of voters. But it is instructive to see who is left out. The Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana targets land-owning farmers, when it is actually landless labourers and tenant farmers who are experiencing rural distress more acutely. As has been the pattern of this government’s budgets, they have been ignored once again. The urban poor have also been ignored. Whereas the urban middle class have got a tax rebate, which, here’s the catch, can only be put into effect by a new government. So, it’s jumla time yet again.

The eve of the budget was also marked by the leak of the NSSO jobs report. This showed that unemployment under Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at a 45-year historic high. Jobs are hard to find and, as CMIE has shown, 1.1 crore jobs have been lost in 2018 alone. The Modi era has been devastatingly destructive for job seekers. The worst affected have been India’s young men and women.

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The Indian Express, 6 February, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/mgnrega-funds-piyush-goyal-union-budget-jobs-5570892/

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