New Delhi: Arun Jaitley’s fourth budget will try to accelerate India’s growth engines in the backdrop of demonetisation exercise announced by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on 8 November. From boosting infrastructure spending, focusing on fiscal discipline to job creation, a merged Union and railway budget may have a political leitmotif given the assembly elections in five states.

Following are the few key areas that the budget may focus upon even as the global order is buffeted by economic uncertainties and growing cries of protectionism. India remains a bright spot in the backdrop of the spadework being done for goods and services tax (GST), bankruptcy reforms, liberalization of foreign direct investment (FDI) norms and measures taken to promote labour intensive sectors.

Here is a primer to the budget to be presented today at 11am.

Consumption boost: Given the overstretched public investments, escalating tensions in world trade, resurgence of protectionism and higher oil prices; the finance minister may look at the consumption route to revive growth. This may translate to a tweak in direct tax rates and slabs.

Also read: Universal Basic Income ideal to tackle poverty, says Economic Survey 2017

The Economic Survey 2016-17 presented in Parliament on Tuesday projected the economy to grow in the range of 6.75% to 7.5% in the fiscal year 2017-18 post demonetisation. With extra spending aimed at providing a stimulus to the economy, will Jaitley be able to maintain a low fiscal deficit? In 2016-17, the government has set a fiscal deficit target of 3.5% of the GDP as compared to 3.9% in 2015-16.

Infrastructure push: The last year’s budgetary outlay of Rs2.21 trillion for infrastructure is expected to witness a substantial boost. Jaitley may look at ways and means to attract private investment. However, the overhang of firming crude oil prices may act as a dampener on account of adversely impacting revenue collection and fiscal math. The integrated infrastructure planning paradigm comprising of roads, railways, waterways and civil aviation may see further push in 2017-18 given the NDA government’s focus on Move in India.

Railways: This will be for the first time in 92 years that a combined budget will be presented on 1 February after the merger of railway budget with the Union budget. Given the abysmal safety record of the national carrier, it is expected that some announcement may be made towards allocation for a separate safety fund. The national carrier is planning a capital expenditure of around Rs1.3 trillion for the financial year 2017-18, the highest-ever capital outlay and is expecting a gross budgetary support of around Rs55,000 crore from the finance ministry.

Job creation: Job creation has been a constant theme for the NDA government and this year too it is expected to see substantive play. The heightened focus on infra sector and constant manufacturing push is aimed at creating more jobs. For over a decade and more now, India has seen only jobless growth: while it adds 12 million to the labour force every year, the economy is able to absorb less than one million.

Also read: Why most of India’s budget allocations are predestined by history

On 8 November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the withdrawal of Rs500 and Rs1,000 currency notes with immediate effect. The ensuing cash crunch impacted job creation in informal sector and small manufacturing units. The Economic Survey 2017 has indentified three key areas—apparel, leather and footwear sector—to drive jobs growth in India and called for labour reform, lower tax rate to effect the change. The budget 2017 may provide further guidance.

Social sector spending: The Union budget 2017-18 may enhance spending under the flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Spending under MGNREGS, a safety net for the rural sector, is expected to touch a record of Rs58,000 crore in 2016-17. This comes in the backdrop of a big spike in demand for work in states such as Bihar, which saw migrant labour returning home after demonetisation led to drying up of projects in Punjab.

Similarly, the health and education sector may see a better allocation this year which can potentially give the union government a bragging right about its pro-people initiatives in an election season.

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