Economy

Opposition Slams Budget for Ignoring Demonetisation-Hit Poor

Most party leaders think that the focus on digitalisation as a way to improve people’s material realities may be off the mark.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley. Credit: Reuters

Finance minister Arun Jaitley. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party is leaving no stone unturned to project the union Budget as “visionary and progressive” for its emphasis on issues concerning farmers and the poor, opposition parties have, almost unequivocally, dubbed it ‘lacklustre’ as the Budget fails to address the concerns of those hit by demonetisation – especially vast sections of people working in the informal sector.

While a cursory look indicates that social sector expenditure seems to have increased, it may not translate into actual gains on the ground as traditional parts of the sector like health, education and institutions for poverty alleviation have been grossly neglected in the Budget presented by the finance minister Arun Jaitley, opposition parties’ members said. In this regard, most were of the opinion that the extraordinary financial allocation for the digitisation of various sectors – as a way to elevate people above their material realities – may be off the mark.

Most leaders also expressed suspicion over the authenticity of the figures used by the finance minister in the Budget.

Here are the responses of the opposition parties:

Congress

Congress scion Rahul Gandhi was hard hitting in his criticism. He said that the government did nothing for the the poor, farmers and traders who were so severely affected by demonetisation.

Similarly, former commerce minister Anand Sharma told the press, “It (Budget) is lacking in direction has no proposal for accelerating manufacturing or job creation.”

He also tweeted, “Figures given by govt are doubtful. Projections for the full financial year are based on the data of 6 months.”

The party leader even took a dig at Jaitley’s announcement that the cash limit for political donations will now be only Rs 2000 – down from Rs 20,000. “How are they fighting UP elections? Did they get donations in cheque or digital payment,” she asked.

Bahujan Samaj Party

Sudhindra Bhadoria of the BSP took the budget down for its neglect of the important social sector. He told The Wire, “This budget is just an eyewash. One, it is fudging with figures. Two, the government has not invested enough on sectors which required serious attention like education and health. These sectors are the core of India’s future. Unless they invest in these, we cannot create a new young force which can stand as equal in the global market.”

He added that the finance minister should have paid some attention to the heath sector as women’s and children’s health are big concerns in India.

“Poverty-stricken people who depend a lot on government facilities and funds will suffer because of the budget,” said Bhadoria.

On political funding curbs, he said that the larger concern in Indian politics is the assertion of power, through both money and muscle, for big political parties. “Such cosmetic steps will not reform Indian politics in any way,” he said.

Samajwadi Party

The SP, too, was sharp in its criticism of the Budget. Its spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia attacked the government on different aspects of the Budget.

“Lacklustre. More of announcements and less of substance,” is how he described the Budget.

“The finance minister announced that two new AIIMS will be set up in Gujarat and Jharkhand. If you look at the last year’s budget, similar announcements were made. Nothing has happened on ground,” he told The Wire.

“Introduction of bullet trains were announced too in the previous budget. Where has the bullet train reached. Has it stopped in Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh? Two, the credit line worth around Rs 8.5 lakh crore was announced for farmers in the last budget. Now that it has been increased to Rs 10 lakh crores, can the finance minister tell us how much of the last year’s allocation was spent? These are mere announcements. What are the steps to implement these have not been clarified at all,” he said.

Bhatia added that announcements like the highest-ever allocation to MGNREGA or tax cuts for people who earn less than Rs 5 lakh annually are too less and too little and sound like temporary steps taken with upcoming polls in mind.

Left parties

All communist parties, unequivocally, panned the Budget.

“The total size of the budget has come down from 13.4 per cent of GDP last year (Revised Estimate) to 12.7 per cent of GDP this year. The fiscal deficit target has been achieved through expenditure reduction. The total revenue receipts have come down from 9.4 per cent of GDP in 2016-17 Revised Estimate (RE) to 9 per cent of GDP in Budget Estimate (BE) of 2017-18. Taxes forgone due to budgetary measures have gone up by about Rs. 30 thousand crores and are put at 2.1 per cent of GDP,” the CPIM polit bureau said in an elaborate press statement, which criticised the budget for pursuing fiscal policies which are contradictory to the problems stated by the Economic Survey released yesterday.

Pointing out that the negligible increase in social sector expenses is not commensurate with the inflation rate, it said, “While there is a small increase in the share of total budgetary outlay going to health, the share going to school education and literacy has actually declined (2.2 per cent in 2016-17, RE to 2.16 per cent in 2017-18, BE).”

The statement further added, “As per the budget, only 1.48 per cent of total budgetary outlay is allocated for welfare of scheduled tribes and 2.44 per cent for the welfare of scheduled castes. This is way below the share of scheduled tribes and castes in the total population. Similarly, the amount classified under gender budget is only 5.3 per cent of total budgetary outlay.”

In a series of tweets, Sitaram Yechury, the party’s general secretary pointed out the loopholes.

In a similar vein, CPI (ML-Liberation) in a press statement said, “Coming close on the heels of the disastrous blow of demonetization, the 2017-18 budget has gone on to further backstab the disaster-hit people who were looking for some relief. The budget has refused to acknowledge and compensate for the massive loss of income and livelihood caused by demonetization.”

It pointed out that the Economic Survey had talked about the introduction of a universal basic income, but the Budget makes no move in this direction.

Sanjay Singh, CPI-ML leader, told The Wire, “Superficial steps like curbs on political funding will not address the problems of illegal corporate funding and money-laundering. What India needs is greater transparency in the political processes and exemplary action on cases like Sahara-Birla diaries and Panama papers. The government does not seem to be interested in concrete action.”

General secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya raised the need for a wealth and inheritance tax.

The party also said that in the name of “amalgamating the railway budget with the general budget”, the government has completely ignored the railways. It said that the pressing agendas of passenger safety and lakhs of vacant staff positions were left unaddressed.

“The token announcement of a future safety fund and bio-toilets does little to reassure the harassed and overburdened millions of common passengers for whom railway travel is becoming unaffordably expensive and insecure,” it said.

Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)

The Bihar-based parties criticised the government for not providing any special package to backward states like Bihar – as was promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his 2014 election campaign.

“The Budget has disappointed the people. There is nothing that could speed up growth and development in the country. It is not going to help the common people, farmers and the youths,” Nitish Kumar said.

He also said that the finance minister failed to give important information about the benefits and losses of demonetisation.

Similarly, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav said it was a disappointing Budget which said nothing about Modi’s promise to generate two crore jobs each year. He also said that there was no incentive for farmers who have been committing suicide.