Quite simply, the Modi government needs a “Punjabi mindset” added to its sensibility. That was my first reaction after catching up on the 2020 Indian budget.
You see the Punjabi loves the immediate, revels in the outrageous, and replies by shock and awe. All of which are necessary, though not sufficient to be great in future.
I am not saying that the government should have only the Punju mindset for that would be disastrous! But that it should have some element of the Punjabi attitude as one of the elements of its weaponry to take India forward.
Let me explain.
Punjabi tadka and Shock and Awe!
When Balakot happened and I read about it – the carefully carried out precise operation where the bomb penetrated the roof without much damage and smoked and burned hundreds of terrorists, I wondered at the whole effort.
While we were there to kill the terrorists, what stopped us from demolishing the whole building? And a few nearby! The damage should have been such that there should have been a crater where the building stood! Knowing what pathological liars Pakistanis are – their kids read that they have never lost any war against India and won even the 1971 war! – twisting such a visually uneventful operation would have been its staple. And it was.
So much time was unnecessarily wasted by the opposition, the press, the foreign media, the naysayers in trying to create the falsehoods which insinuated that such a bombing never happened.
In fact, had it not been for the reports from the Italian reporter Francesca Marino, and evidence from the Indian forces, we may have not been able to conclusively prove the event itself!
Why?! Because it was done so carefully. So carefully that the enemy could run an entire falsehoods factory globally and get away with it. Worse, its own public had ample reason, given its spin and fancy presentations, to believe the ISPR.
Meanwhile, a Punjabi mind would have laid out straight off the bat that visual damage was as much important as the real damage – specifically when it came to an operation against Pakistan! Shock and awe is what works with Pakistan.
This budget is another situation where an infusion of Punjabi tadka would have come in handy. For, sometimes you need the focus on the immediate.
What about today? What about now? How to ensure the pleasure of living in today. Today!!
Yes, I want to ensure that tomorrow is great and awesome. But when the crisis in the national scenario – given how the agitations and the lynchings by the leftists and the jehadi violence are that sharply defining the national narrative – we need something to cheer – now! We needed the middle class to rise high-fiving and saying in unison – Yes!!
That Punjabi tadka – of making the today sizzle, or at least seem so – was critically needed. But the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, was a Vinci creating a legendary masterpiece. Something that many in the coming ages would marvel if successfully created, and if allowed to be done so by the enemies.
And, that is the crux of my reading of the budget.
The power of the Aspirational
Nirmala Sitharaman summarized her budget and plan in a poem by the prominent Kashmiri poet Dina nath Kaul. It discussed the eternal beauty of Kashmir and what has been coming through the ages and hopefully will be there for many generations to come. To underscore her ideas, she shared three themes of her budget – Aspirational India, Economic Development and Caring India.
The verse was:
Saun Watan Gulzar Shalamaar Hyuv
Dal Manz Pholvun Pamposh Hyuv
Myon Watan, Chyon Watan
Saun Watan,Nundbouy Watan
Hamara watan khilte hue Shalimar bagh jaise,
hamara watan Dal lake mein khilte hue kamal jaisa,
nau jawano ke garam khoon jaisa,
mera watan tera watan,
duniya ka sabse pyaara watan
The poet looks at the eternal and experiences the sublime. There is beauty in that and it is the beauty of life. Something that we need to inculcate in ourselves or we will have no life.
Pandit Kaul’s beautiful words, however, do not talk of the immediate and inherent pain that defines the current environment. Apart from the sublime and the eternal Dal lake and the beauty is the current destruction and immediate lives to be lived.
I can only experience Pandit Kaul’s poetry if I have a full meal in my stomach and a job to give it to me. I would like to be an entrepreneur, but I am not one currently. I need the cushion for my family today. Not in some aspirational world.
And it is here that Nirmala Sitharaman succeeded and failed.
What about today?
What she has outlined in the truly aspirational and revolutionary budget – if implemented (well, Modi hai to mumkin hai!) – can take India to a whole new level. Five years from now, Indian economic landscape will be the envy of many. The focus on infrastructure, agriculture, making it remunerative and providing the insurances needed, along with skill training, changes in the educational sector will push India towards more efficiency and higher productivity.
With focus on Quantum computing, the aim is to grab the future science changes before they get bigger elsewhere.
The simplification of tax regime, with no deductions – simply one tax rate will help every tax payer save time and – in future perhaps – money over the present state!
All in the long run, not necessarily now.
You see how everything is about the beauty, progress and flowering of the country, but nothing about the current survival.
The economy is not doing that great and we all know that if we are to grow faster and more, we need to take care of today’s economic woes. There is a sense of economic slow down and the growth is being impacted.
While some of the economists are predicting that things will turnaround soon, the situation does need a push. A push that kickstarts the growth that is so necessarily needed for India’s promise to fructify. We need the plans, and the fundamentals of future growth to happen, which the FM lays out. But we need the patient to live today as well.
And, in this budget, that is missing.
Look at all the provisions in the budget below, you will find that everyone of them talks about what will be delivered and achieved in the next 5 years. Just a handful for today – this year. The one that is there – the tax reform in the slabs – which is great and visionary, does not bring much cheer to the middle class in today’s time-frame, because the benefit is not that much for most tax payers.
The 2020 Indian budget in brief
Achievements until now
- “Gross enrollment of girls is 94.32 percent in elementary levels, 81.32 percent in secondary level and 59.7 percent in the higher secondary level.”
- More than 5 lakh MSMEs benefited from RBI’s restructuring of loans. Government has asked RBI to consider extending the window of debt structuring by one year to March 2021 for this purpose
- Fiscal deficit target pegged at 3.8% of GDP for FY 2019-20. FY21 fiscal deficit target pegged at 3.5% of GDP
- Government to sell part holding in LIC. Besides, govt to also sell stake in IDBI Bank to private investors
- Cash reward system for customers to seek invoices.
- Central government debt reduced to 48.7 percent of GDP in 2019 from 52.2 percent
- Over 6 crore farmers under Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna have been insured.
- Indian manufacturers and small traders are getting hurt by the deep discounts offered the e-commerce companies
Tax system simplification – around 70 of the the over 100 income tax deductions and exemptions have been removed.
Launching a new direct tax dispute settlement scheme — Vivaad se Vishwaas scheme. This is for direct tax payers whose appeals are pending at various forums. Factoid – 4.83 lakh direct tax cases pending in various appellate forums. Interest and penalty will be waived for those who wish to pay the disputed amount till March 31
“Under the scheme, taxpayer to pay only amount of disputed tax. They will get complete waiver on interest and penalty if scheme is availed by March 31, 2020,” Sitharaman said.
New income tax rates:
- 10% tax for income between 5 lakh-7.5 lakh;
- 15% tax for income between 7.5 lakh to 10 lakh;
- 20% tax for income between 10 lakh to 12.5 lakh;
- 25% tax for income between 12.5 lakh to 15 lakh;
- 30% tax for income above 15 lakh
- Income tax relief will cost the exchequer Rs 48,000 crore revenue loss
- Divident Distribution tax abolished – Companies do not need to pay the DDT. Dividends will only be taxed at the hands of recipients (applicable rates)
- 15th Finance Commission has cut state share of central taxes by one percentage point to 41 per centCorporate tax for existing companies slashed to 22 per cent
- Govt proposes 100 per cent tax concession to sovereign wealth funds on investment in infra projects
- 15% concessional tax rate for new power generation companies
- Tax rates on cooperative societies reduced to 22%
- Total of 60 lakh new taxpayers and 105 crore e-way bills generated under GST
- Average household now saves 4 percent of monthly spend due to reduced GST rates
- Concessional tax rate of 15 per cent extended to power generation companies
Technology, Business and Jobs
- Proposes a new National Policy on Official Statistics to improve data collection and dissemination with the help of technology
- Estimated that more than 2.62 lakh jobs are likely to be created between March 2019 and March 2021 in various organizations. The strength of government establishments was 32,62,908 as on March 1, 2019, which will increase to 35,25,388 by the same date in 2021 an increase of 2,62,480
- An allocation of Rs 8,000 crore will be made for National Mission on Quantum Computing and Technology. Set up a National Mission on Quantum Technology and Applications – “Quantum technology is opening up new frontiers in computing, communications, cybersecurity with wide‐spread applications… It is expected that lots of commercial applications would emerge from theoretical constructs which are developing in this area.” – Finance Minister
Improvement and Welfare Schemes
- Rs 35,600 crore allocated for nutritional related programme in FY21
- Rs 85,000 crore has been budgeted for the welfare of Scheduled Castes and other backward classes.
- Rs 28,600 crore will be allocated in FY21 for women-linked programmes.
- Allocation for senior citizens and ‘Divyang’ enhanced to Rs 9500 crore.
- Tourism promotion gets Rs 2500 crore
- Rs 4,400 crore to tackle Delhi’s air pollution problem
- 9,000 km of economic corridor will be set up. “Chennai-Bengaluru expressway will also be started. Delhi-Mumbai expressway to be completed By 2023,” says FM.
- 100 more airports to be developed by 2025
- 1,150 trains will run under the public private partnership (PPP) mode, also four stations will be redeveloped with the help of the private sector
- 550 WiFi facilities have been commissioned at railway stations.
- 1 lakh gram panchayats to get optical fibre link.
- An allocation of Rs 6,000 crore will be provided for BharatNet scheme
- Allocation of Rs 27,300 crore for development of industry and commerce
- Rs 20,000 crore for renewable energy sector in a bid to tackle pollution and climate change. A new scheme of smart meters will be launched
Insurance and Housing
- Insurance cover for bank depositors raised from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh
- Nirvik (Niryat Rin Vikas Yojana) scheme to provide enhanced insurance cover and reduce premium for small exporters
- Additional Rs 1.5 lakh tax benefit on interest paid on affordable housing loans to March 2021. Tax holiday to affordable housing developers.
- Agri-credit target for the year 2020-21 has been set at Rs 15 lakh crore
- Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha and Utthan Mahabhiyan (PM KUSUM) to be expanded, providing 20 lakh farmers in setting up standalone solar pumps
- Railways will set up Kisan Rail through PPP model so that perishable goods can be transported quickly.
- Krishi Udaan scheme to transport agri products to national as well international destinations to be launched
The Eternal and the Mundane
India’s potential has been bastardized by so many. Its economy, infrastructure, way of life, its patience and indeed it’s survival – have been played with, toyed with and, in many cases destroyed.
What is needed today is a visionary who can take the present with him/her while the future is carefully crafted. The years of slavery and colonization have inherently broken us down. We are fully equipped to self-destroy as opposed to let a road to future be constructed. That kind of masochistic populace needs to be shocked and awed and petted at times to keep it from self-destroying itself.
While Nirmala Sitharaman has been unleashing many changes, some so long after they were needed to kickstart the economy, she has been missing the imperatives of the present. She is aspirational in character. A visionary who wants path-breaking changes to be sowed for a greater tomorrow.
But she is missing the task of watering the soil where she is sowing the seeds for a better tomorrow. That is the crux of 2020 Indian budget.