New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s first Union budget since the pandemic has walked a tight line in ensuring that the Indian economy is steered out a historical contraction in GDP while trying to find more financial resources to fight the economic effects of the lockdown.
There is no ‘bad news’ in the Union Budget 2021 – a euphemism for the fact that there is no dreaded COVID-19 cess or a hike in income tax rates – but at the same time the average consumer has not been left with more money in her pocket.
Taking a step back though, who are the big winners and losers of this year’s budget? The Wire breaks it down.
1) India’s healthcare sector
The health ministry’s budgetary expenditure for FY’22 is around 10% higher than FY’21, but the number that generated headlines was Sitharaman’s announcement that overall budget outlay for ‘health and wellbeing’ was up by a whopping 137% at Rs 2.23 lakh crore.
The Rs 2.23 lakh crore figure also includes Rs 35,000 crore for the COVID-19 vaccination programme that is currently underway.
A separate new programme – the PM AtmaNirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana – also got an allocation of Rs 64,180 crore (albeit spread over six years). It specifically tackles healthcare infrastructure.
According to Bloomberg, the announcement extended shares of hospital operators including Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd., Max Healthcare Institute Ltd. and Narayana Hrudayalaya Ltd.
2) Construction, highways and real estate
On the infrastructure front, the new development finance institution, with an initial allocation of Rs 20,000 crore from the sector, may end up being the boost that the flagging National Infrastructure Pipeline project needs.
Separate highway projects announced in key poll-bound states will also help infrastructure and construction companies.
The announcement of an additional metros – along with rapid rail transport projects for 27 cities ,and a long-awaited vehicle scrappage policy – is also a positive for several metal companies that will benefit from additional demand for steel and aluminium.
3) Public sector banks
While rumours of a ‘bad bank’ were swirling around before the Union Budget, Sitharaman ended up announcing an asset management company to take over stressed assets of banks in an effort to clean up the public sector banking system. The finer details of this plan will still have to be debated – and it’s not clear if this will be a panacea – but this is a step forward.
Not much or losers
This section is more aptly titled as people or sectors that didn’t really benefit from the Budget 2021, but were not hurt either.
4) India’s middle class
Part B of the Budget speech, typically reserved for major direct and indirect tax changes, came and went without any major news.
Some economists had argued that this budget presented an opportunity for the Centre to put more money in the hands of the average taxpayer through income tax relief. But this was not to be. Immediately after the speech, social media was flooded with memes revolving around the ever-disappointed Indian middle class person. At the same time though, reports of a dreaded COVID-19 cess that could be levied on some transactions also didn’t turn out to be true.
Senior citizens above the age of 75 – who rely on pension and interest income – did get a convenient sop in the form of not needing to file income tax returns though.
5) Farmers and rural economy
On the whole, India’s rural sector was also mostly not addressed by the Budget 2021. The agriculture ministry’s budget is not substantially higher, nor has there been any announcement regarding an expansion in the PM Kisan programme.
The rural development ministry’s budget is slightly higher than last year – and NREGA also received more funds if you compare the BE (budget estimates) of FY’21 and FY’22 – but not a commensurate jump in expenditure that one might have expected.
For instance, the FY’22 BE for NREGA was Rs 73,000 crore – a boost from the Rs 61,500 crore (FY’21 BE) that was initially allocated in the last Union budget. But the FY’21 RE is substantially higher at Rs 1.11 lakh crore, due to the Centre topping up the programme with an additional Rs 40,000 crore. Does the Rs 73,000 crore allotted this year imply that rural distress has largely passed? Or does the Centre plan on adding an additional amount as it normally does as the year progresses?