The finance minister has succeeded in strengthening optimism about India’s economic future. Union Budget attempts to take India’s exciting growth story to the next and higher trajectory. This is an extraordinary achievement, given the fact that in the run-up to the Budget, the national mood was weighed down by increasing inflation.
He has done what is expected of a sensitive finance minister: that is provide financial support for mechanisms and policies to help raise productivity, provide relief to farmers and expand availability of credit to the agricultural sector. Education and health hold the key to India’s future if the country has to sustain its demographic advantages in the knowledge age. Increasing enrolment, reducing dropouts at primary and secondary levels, expanding opportunities for upgradation of skills, and efficient delivery systems are critical challenges. The FM has proposed steps that highlight the Centre’s awareness of the importance of the tasks in these areas. The answer to the need for mobilizing greater resources lies in expanding public-private partnership. Instead of collecting revenues and then disbursing them for social welfare, the government could encourage private sector to participate directly. He is aware of the time lag of benefits of growth reaching the common people. Therefore, he has tried to supplement benefits percolating from high growth rates by several innovative measures of providing immediate and direct relief to the vulnerable and disadvantaged sections. The Finance Minister needs resources – huge resources – to accomplish all that government is committed to achieve. Perhaps, there is room for creative initiatives to mobilize funds from non-government segments of Indian society to supplement public spending in social sectors. The Finance Minister would no doubt welcome ideas that would spare him the thankless task of trying to raise resources by taking recourse to unpopular measures. Every Finance Minister would like to receive bouquets and not brick bags. But we also want our Finance Minister to keep deficit under check, provide funds for social sector, give relief to the vulnerable sections and support creation of world class infrastructure. Therefore, we need to extend to him support in achieving these, often conflicting, goals.