Budget 2019: Misleading Claims And Empty Pre-Poll Promises

01 February 2019

THE budget presented today is yet another bouquet of populist jumlas aimed at misleading the common people ahead of the impending LS elections. The three big-ticket announcements made today – income support of Rs 6000 for farmers owning up to 2 hectares of land, old age pension of Rs 3000 per month for unorganised sector workers and exemption of individual income tax for annual income up to Rs 5 lakh – may sound big but mean very little.

The income support which amounts to only Rs 500 per month per household (for a household of five it means nothing more than Rs. 3 per person per day) makes a mockery of the earlier promise of doubling farmers’ income. With tenants and share-croppers being kept out of the purview of even this paltry income support, large sections of actual agricultural producers will actually get nothing. Together with continuing reduction in fertiliser and food subsidies (from respectively 2.85 percent and 6.97 percent in 2018-19 to 2.69 percent and 6.62 percent in 2019-20), this will actually mean further worsening of rural distress.

For an unorganised sector worker now in her twenties, the promise of Rs 3000 pension at the age of sixty means nothing except the premium that she will have to start paying now. While sections of the salaried people earning between 2.5 L to 5 L will have some tax relief (those above 5 L will still have to pay taxes for the 2.5L-5L slab), the real tax exemptions have once again been reserved for the super rich who will have to pay no wealth tax or no enhanced tax despite growing economic inequality in the country.

The budget is conspicuously silent on the issue of jobs except pompously declaring that job-seekers have turned job creators in India. This is a huge blow to the youth of the country who are suffering from massive unemployment, the overall unemployment rate having shot up from 2% to 6.1% in the wake of demonetisation (for the youth in 15-29 year age group, the rate has jumped much more ominously from 5% in 2011-12 to 17.4% in 2017-18 for rural male, from 4,8% in 2011-12 to 13.6% in 2017-18 for rural female, and as high as 18.7% and 27.2% for young urban males and females). The budget is equally silent about the key demands of regularisation and minimum wages raised by India’s emerging workers implementing various government schemes who are currently being treated as hugely underpaid volunteers.

While the government is talking about increased defence expenditure, it has come at the cost of a major across-the-board projected decline in government expenditure on rural development, social welfare and centrally sponsored schemes (from 5.5%, 1.89% and 12.41% respectively in 2018-19 to 4.99%, 1.77% and 11.77% in 2019-20).

Budgets presented in election years have traditionally been of a truly interim nature, but this government has defied all norms to present a full scale budget even as the mandate of the government is about to expire and the government remains silent about its disastrous economic performance since 2014.

The economics of this government which has popularly come to be known as jumlanomics has unleashed acute uncertainty and deep decline in terms of all major economic indicators and pushed the common people into a major crisis of livelihood. The election-eve budget only threatens to exacerbate the downward trends and must be rebuffed by the people in the forthcoming elections to bring about an economic overhaul and reversal and reorientation of economic policies from serving corporate greed and crony capitalism to promoting the greater good of the common people.

- Dipankar Bhattacharya
General Secretary, CPI(ML)