WEEKEND LIGHTER: BUDGET WITH A FOCUS

WEEKEND LIGHTER: BUDGET WITH A FOCUS
(January 16-22, 2018)

I-Cover Story

Budget with a focus


This refers to Chandrajit Banerjee’s piece “Focusing on growth” (The Hindu Business Line, Budget wish list, January 17). No one can dispute the rationale in prioritization of investment revival, job creation, agricultural growth, education and healthcare (not necessarily in that order) as key focus areas  for Budget 2018-19. Expectations galore, as this is going to be the ‘last’ full year budget before the next elections. Finance Minister Jaitley may have to be a magician, tight-rope walker and a mathematical wizard, all-in-one while putting together a budget that will meet the gallery expectations from his forthcoming budget.
Centre’s fiscal responsibility commitments, unquenchable political thirst for populist measures that will attract votes and the pushes and pulls from states which had recent elections or are going for elections shortly will all add to the nightmares of the Finance Minister who is already on the defensive about demonetization and GST. FM may have no difficulty in making choices among populist measures or cutting and pasting some changes in paragraphs on direct taxes. Problems will crop up when he has to speak about legacy issues like agricultural income tax or taxing the super-rich.
While so much concerned about the recovery of NPAs or common man’s woes arising from Aadhaar-linking requirements, media and analysts opt to remain silent when it comes to the pockets where money is getting accumulated, adding new billionaires and making the rich super-rich. At some stage, FM will have to identify such pockets to make good the shortfalls and deficits that stare at him during the budget exercise. The band-in-aids of drawing from the so-called surpluses of PSUs or dipping into the reserves of the central bank, which can at best be short-term remedies, have been over-used during the last three years.
Money is accumulating outside the government fold, almost with the same speed at which heaps of garbage are growing in cities and suburbs. It is government’s responsibility to canalize such hoardings for productive purposes. Even if the details of money outside government accounts are not dovetailed into the budget, GOI’s guidance expressed through Budget Speech should be clear about the social responsibility of people who ‘grow’ rich, exploiting nation’s resources. Perhaps the responsibility to develop infrastructure for healthcare, transport, education, old age care and so on in geographical areas close to large industrial establishments could be entrusted to the industrialists concerned. This will release substantial budgetary resources for deployment in other priority areas and reduce fiscal deficit to a great extent.
M G Warrier, Mumbai
II-Recent responses

1. Apex mutiny

Apropos Shekhar Gupta’s piece “Judiciary on trial”, using aptly chosen words at such short notice (BS, National interest, January 13), one would love to go with the optimism that before this letter goes to print, the contours of a consensus solution to get over the impasse amicably would have surfaced.
The current decade has been witnessing a peculiar situation in Indian political system in regard to hierarchical issues from the role of the President to running of local self-government bodies. Several issues which can have only political solution through democratic processes were routinely getting referred to judiciary for decision, overburdening an ill-equipped judicial system. Ideally, courts should have desisted from the temptation to consider issues which should have been decided by elected legislatures after due deliberations. Instead, if multiple-dimensional responsibilities are thrust upon any limb of democratic system, the chances are, instead of problems getting sorted out, decisions will get influenced by political weather with the possibility of each solution leading to a new problem or controversy.
To restore the efficiency of parliamentary democracy, Centre should take the initiative to evolve a political consensus on the need for parliament, state legislatures and other democratic institutions to function smoothly. Till such time country-specific hierarchy and architecture evolves, attempting such a consensus will call for certain amount of give and take as regards sharing of power and resources by all stakeholders and a higher level of statesmanship from the political leadership.
M G Warrier, Mumbai



2, Clarity in communication

Apropos Charan Singh’s well-researched piece on transparency in policy communication by Reserve Bank of India (Business Line, RBI can do with some glasnost, January 13), one has to concede that there is always scope for more openness in policy announcements by the central bank. Current decade has seen several short-term appointments at higher levels in RBI. This has affected the body language of the institution, despite its having a dedicated professional research team capable of providing policy inputs of a high academic standard.
To be specific, Duvvuri Subbarao  being a professional bureaucrat was diplomatic, Raghuram Rajan was outspoken and the present governor Urjit Patel is soft-spoken and man of few words but has no confusion about his role. The three governors had three different types of deputies and while the teams functioned harmoniously and effectively within, the way they communicated with outside world differed.
Presently, RBI uses its website effectively. While Raghuram Rajan was using his teaching skills to respond to developments having an impact on banking or monetary policy in his public speeches, Urjit Patel notifies RBI’s perceptions on such developments at rbi.org.in The papers on impact of demonetization and a ‘welcome note’ when GOI announced PSBs’ recapitalization package are examples.
M G Warrier, Mumbai

III LEISURE

I’m indebted to people
I am indebted to hundreds of people who have helped me survive, supported me in my education, literally been with me in difficult times, corrected me when they thought I was on a wrong route, consoled me when I lost, encouraged me to take challenges of life head on, taught me that people are not different from traditional money lenders (will offer umbrella when it shines and withdraw when it rains!), helped me learn many lessons of life, guided me to be patient and wait for the opportune time for doing anything (the most important thing I learned was even revenge can wait) and encouraged me to do whatever I was comfortable with!
Coming days, I will try to introduce some of these people to you.
Why suddenly on this subject?
Yesterday two things happened.
1) A member of Exrbites Group who is my well-wisher suggested that I could consider writing more on the places I stayed and my experiences. That may not happen as a 'project'. Still, while interacting, there can be a method in madness.
2) I telephoned a former High Court Justice in his eighties with the mischievous intention of finding out his take on the Apex Court controversy. He is practising in Supreme Court for the last 15 years or so. I was talking to him after a gap and said I loved to listen to his voice "once in six months". He said: "Mr Warrier, are you calling after hearing about the bereavement in my family?"
I thought he was referring to his wife's passing away few months back. I said: "I called you and you talked to me after that..." He cut me short and said: "I'm in Delhi. I lost my elder brother in Hyderabad a week back. Tonight I'm flying back to attend the rituals there...85 plus is a ripe age to go..."
I responded: "Age doesn't make a difference in sense of loss... When it's someone close to us..."
He said: "Thank you... I'm alone in this big house... Someone, may be my driver has come...Let me open the door... I I'll call you back..."
There is nothing particularly special about the above conversation. The incompleteness make you look forward to one of those tomorrows, when, perhaps, two of us may continue the conversation where it got broken!

M G Warrier

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