What are the three things you wish for from the Budget?
The Union government should focus only on its core activities (defence, internal security, foreign affairs, etc.) and national and international projects. A country like the US has only 15 ministries, Japan has 10, while we have more than 46. We need to reduce the size of the Union government and corresponding expenditure. Instead of running Centrally-sponsored schemes, states should be encouraged to take up schemes specifically suited to their own needs. The Centre should help by way of grants. This will be in line with the spirit of the 73rd and 74th amendments.
Rural India needs massive investments in both the physical and social sectors. The highest priority should be given to building all-weather link roads to facilitate trade and transport. Next is watershed development for improving agriculture yields and water bodies’ rejuvenation to ensure drinking water supply and sanitation. Biofuel production (biodiesel, ethanol, biogas) should be encouraged since it can bring millions of ha of fallow land under cultivation. These three activities create the maximum number of jobs per million rupees of investment. We need assured and quality power supply. Therefore, installation of ultra mega power projects should be speeded up. In order to fund infrastructure projects, public-private partnership and innovative ways to bring money from the parallel economy into the mainstream should be explored.
We need to strengthen public distribution system to support the large section of below poverty line families by providing them with daily consumption items including foodgrain at affordable prices. We should switch to issuing food stamps to remove inefficiency, high administration costs and corruption from the system. The food stamp can be used to pay part of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme wages.
If you could end one thing, what would that be?
We have a complicated tax structure with numerous exemptions and irritants such as cess, surcharge, surtax, FBT (fringe benefit tax), MAT (minimum alternate tax), etc. We need to simplify the structure, for which we must take a fresh look at the Kelkar Committee recommendations.
If you were finance minister, what would be the one thing outside your industry you would want in the Budget?
We must encourage job-oriented industries in rural India for income generation and stopping their migration to the cities. We must exempt various village industries/services, such as agro processing and bioenergy, food storage, cold chains, dairy, horticulture, floriculture, etc., from all kinds of duties and taxes for a period of 10 years.
What is the one thing you don’t want changed?We must quickly move to a uniform GST (goods and services tax) to encourage inter-state trade and commerce and make the country a single common market.
Which budget disappointedyou the most? Why?I think the budgets before 1991 were discouraging and run-of-the-mill type. Manmohan Singh, who presented the budget in 1991, gets the credit for the first innovative and encouraging budget.
One proposal you think is shot down in every budget, but shouldn’t be.
The public sector undertaking disinvestment proposals are invariably getting postponed. So is the case with abolishing/reducing subsidies which is a hidden cause for inflation.
What would youconsider to be inclusive growth?Inclusive growth means providing basic needs of food, clothing and shelter at reasonable prices to large sections of poor people. They also need assistance in education and health care at affordable cost. We must ensure proper delivery so that fruits of economic growth also reach the poor people.
Arun Firodia is chairman, Kinetic Engineering Ltd.
By Sudha Menon