What are the three things you wish for from the Budget?
Control inflation: While India has maintained healthy growth rates, there are concerns over rising cost of living, production, talent, staying in business, which is inherently not driven by demand-supply regimes but by systemic complexity and lack of infrastructural support in the system. Unchecked inflation adds to the woes.
Simpler tax structures: The simplest premise here is that the cost of paying tax should not be more than 1% of the tax paid. The point is not necessarily lower taxes but simpler taxes. The experience has been that simplified and ‘rational’ taxes actually raise tax compliance.
Rakesh Shukla, founder and chief executive officer, Writers Block, a technical publishing and training firm.
Something for everyone: The Budget is an exercise the entire country looks forward to and not being addressed is a disappointment… I want something for that farmer in the field, that worker on the street, that lady in the hospital, the staff in my office, my wife and me. It is a tough one, but that is how it is.
If?you could end one thing, what would it be?
There are way too many...ineffective government schemes. Visit any government ministry and make a list of schemes that are in place on paper and compare that to the actual impact and work on the ground. You will get the real picture of how every year hundreds of abhiyans, yojanas, plans, schemes are started. But there is no monitoring, audit and closure to most of them. The government needs to govern—which starts with keeping strict controls on government expenditure that is not yielding results.
If you were the finance minister, what would be the one thing outside your industry you would want in the Budget?
Actually, there are two of them. One is making manufacturing more competitive by way of strengthening industrial infrastructure, simplifying regulatory processes and making the industrial environment legally, socially and economically robust. The second is about the ‘essentials of life’—health and education. There should be an emphasis on quality health care and building a social security system that will support the elderly, people from weaker strata of society, lower middle class, service professionals such as drivers, maids, plumbers, who, while they add to the economic value of the nation, have little to look forward to from growth.
What is the one thing you don’t want changed?
The continued thrust on infrastructure, health-care and primary education. However, one would want more stringent audits on plans like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (education for all project) and the Anganwadi (pre-school) schemes. A lot of them, not necessarily those quoted, are well conceived but ill implemented.
Which Budget disappointed you the most? Why?
Budgets are a huge balancing act... There is no way that all constituencies can be addressed in the same discussion. Till such time the fundamentals like growth, inflation, interest rates and tax structures are not disproportionately altered, no budget is disappointing and I don’t think there has been any such budget.
One proposal you think is shot down in every budget but shouldn’t be.
The issue of FDI (foreign direct investment) in certain sectors, while not a matter for debate in traditional budget documents, deserves more attention, urgency and action. Since it is a very sensitive and complex topic, it is clobbered down even before any genuine debate reaches the table.
What would you consider to be inclusive growth?
Inclusive growth implies creation of economically empowering systems and pipelines at all levels. It does not mean keeping or making a section of the society incompetent, which has historically been the case. So whether it means creating talent pipelines for the manufacturers, simplifying paperwork for the services sector, creating platforms for social equality or increasing systemic transparency, as far as I am concerned, they are all pillars of inclusive growth.
Rakesh Shukla is founder and chief executive officer, Writers Block, a technical publishing and training firm.
By Raghu Krishnan