The expectation that interim finance minister Piyush Goyal would present a farmers’ budget after the drubbing his party got in the recent Assembly polls was somewhat disappointing, particularly to farmers. Yes, small and marginal farmers were mentioned, but 12 crore farm households will get income support of just Rs 6,000 annually, or just Rs 500 a month. This too will be in instalments. Interestingly farmers scoffed at this proposal when asked what they thought of the government’s announcement. This so-called bonanza for farmers is nowhere close to what Telangana and Odisha gave their farmers. In Telangana, for instance, farmers got Rs 8,000 per year per acre of landholding in Telangana, while in Odisha’s Kalia, farmers receive rs 10,000 per year. It would have made sense if this bonanza was provided on a per acre basis. It is difficult to see how 12 crore farm households will benefit by this as Mr Modi claimed in his press conference after the Budget. Landowning farmers are still better off than the 10 crore landless labourers, who got nothing in the Budget. As they are also voters, it is surprising that there was nothing for them. Something like the much-needed and welcome pension scheme for the unorganised sector could have been designed for the landless too.
Even the much-touted free LPG connections given to rural women to improve their quality of life was a non-starter as most can’t afford to buy a second cylinder. Mr Goyal must have been aware of this and should have redesigned the scheme in the Budget.
The finance minister must be commended over a Budget that will spur consumption though generous tax sops as beneficiaries are expected to go on a spending spree with the Rs 18,500 crores that was put in their collective pockets. This will also give a push to the manufacturing and services sector.
Interestingly, while Mr Goyal began his nearly two-hour speech tick-marking the achievements of the Narendra Modi government, he failed to make any mention of the government’s failure on the jobs front, specially after the government reneged on its promise to create 20 million jobs annually. In fact, there was nothing to create confidence that this was a job-creating Budget. A recent survey by a rating agency estimated 11 million jobs were lost last year. It was also ironic that Mr Goyal spoke of his government’s transparency, when only on Thursday it sought to prevent the release of the National Sample Survey Office report on employment as it was not a positive one. Interestingly, while this was meant to be an interim budget, with just over two months to go before the general election begins, some of the proposals will be implemented with retrospective effect from January 2018. This is something that has never been done before.