DR. T. SUMATHY (A) THAMIZHACHI THANGAPANDIAN (CHENNAI SOUTH): “The difference between despair And fear, is like the one Between the instant of a wreck, And when the wreck has been.” These lines are taken from Emily Dickinson’s collection of poems. She begins with the feeling of despair and compares it to a shipwreck; the panic that concentrates the mind as the ship goes down. Unfortunately, something more dire awaits us. We give priority to the wreck initially; a premature moral judgement. What follows when the ship completely goes down is the utter sense of loss, one that is more long- lasting and pertinent. The same can be understood to be India unfortunately, a ship we can see slowly sinking in front of our eyes. Year after year, we return to this envisioned ‘Temple of Democracy’ in the months of January and February for the past three years. Hoping that for once, this one set of documents, the Budget, we as Indians look forward to every year will be truly representative of us. We face dejection every year and this time around has been no disparate. But similar to Emily Dickinson’s lines, what we face today is despair and dejection. If this continues, what we will eventually arrive at is the situation of the ship going down completely. The government will have taken this nation so far down the line of ruin; what we will have is a feeling of complete loss. The Hon’ble Finance Minister, Thirumati Nirmala Sitharaman had said that the seven focal areas of the India Budget this financial year are: green growth, youth power, inclusive development, reaching the last mile, infrastructure and investment, unleashing the potential and launch of digital platforms. But I beg to differ here. The budget does focus on seven areas but in my opinion, they are; slashing out on federalism, promotion of disinvestments, indifference to those on the margins, disregard for the middleclass, differential treatment for states, promotion of inequality and unequal growth. It comes as a surprise, in fact it is commendable, the conviction of the Union government, that too in the year preceding the elections, thinking that with the utter neglect it has given to the economy, the states, the people and their sufferings what the nation really wants; that the general elections next year can be fought and won. According to the Economic Survey, the government is either unaware of or in denial about the material circumstances of the great majority of Indians. Keep in mind that overall employment rates are at historically low levels, that formal employment is declining, that job losses are affecting even the most “dynamic” industries like IT, that median money wages are lower than they were two years ago, that official surveys find horrifying nutrition indicators, and that micro surveys show evidence of an increase in the prevalence of absolute hunger. All we see is hand-picked data that reinforces just one dictum: that all that is well in this country has only happened after the year 2014. Government capital expenditures have so far had less favourable effects on either overall macro-growth or the availability of private investment opportunities. Then, one must address the finance minister with the more significant (unasked) query. The Modi administration has been in power for nine years. How has India’s private investment development failed to take up in a sustained way when Modi was perceived as a pro-investment, pro-corporate prime minister who won the election with one of the strongest political mandates since the middle of the 1980s? Despite all fiscal incentives, including corporate tax cuts, Make in India, PLI, and successive increases in increased government expenditure for encouraging a private crowding, practically none have had a significant impact on improving private investment across industries (leaving the Adani Group aside of course). The overall debt increased to 155.31 lakh crore in 2022, 2.77 times what it was in 2014. Each resident owed 43, 124, but in the last nine years, this amount has climbed to 1,09,373. It has been agreed to incur additional debt for the current fiscal year totalling $12,31 lakh crore at an interest cost of $1, 39,320 crore. This is the cause of the Union government’s inability to reserve funds for crucial Ministries. The effective tax rate will decrease from 42.7% to 39% as a result of the finance minister’s announcement that the surcharge on the super-rich (those making Rs 5 crore or more annually) will be cut. This may have been done in an effort to swiftly persuade the super-rich to switch to the new tax system, but it begs the question: Why has the Modi government continued to favour the “pro-corporate super-rich” in terms of tax policy? The budget also does not extend a helping hand to the construction sector, and the welfare of 93 percent of unorganised workers, including construction workers, and migrant workers has been neglected. The Government has already scrapped the Maulana Azad national Fellowship for minority students. The ambit of the Pre-Matric Scholarship for Minority School Students has also been limited to standard 9th and from 1 st to 10th earlier. The Union government gave zero thought to how adversely would these moves affect students from social and religious minorities. And the present budget goes absolutely mute on how it aims to ensure that the students covered under these schemes continue their education and receive opportunities. As usual, the budget also does the continuous job of disappointing us about job creation. The finance minister refused to mention or acknowledge the job creation crisis tearing across sectors across India, just like what she has done in the last four to five budget speeches. As in previous years, only token announcements had a significant impact on securing young people secure, respectable jobs. We may be facing the biggest “brain drain” of educated, young Indian hopefuls abroad than has ever been observed if the government’s endeavour to achieve upward social and economic mobility among the youth is centred primarily on creating skill centres for foreign outreach. Both previous and current budgets have avoided allocating funds for the purpose of generating targeted job growth across industries. With the current budget as well, it appears that the current government’s own “failed” supply-side interventions will continue up until the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections. These interventions have “no gain” in creating good employment opportunities for young people or in stimulating private investment opportunities (despite all the carrots provided). The housing-for-all Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), was launched in 2015 as one of the star welfare projects of the Narendra Modi government. For the construction of eight million dwellings in rural and urban regions for qualified recipients in 2022—2023, 480 billion rupees ($59 billion; E47 billion) were allotted in the previous budget. The Union government was contacted in August of last year with a request for an extension of the deadline and further financial support after the ministry of housing and urban affairs, which is in charge of the urban portion of the programme, claimed it was behind schedule. Data is available for the current fiscal year from I April 2022 through 23 January 2023. This demonstrates that while 2.6 million dwellings were constructed as part of the rural component of the programme, 1.2 million residences were finished in urban areas. The government is currently 4.2 million homes shy of its overall goal, according to this statistic. According to data from the ministry of water resources, so far only around 17 million households have been given piped water connections this year. That’s slightly short of 50% of the target. I could go on and on and mind it, that the list would take considerable time to end but you’ll notice a similar pattern. The government is falling short of its promises and lagging behind on welfare schemes particularly. And all of this when it does not think twice before criticising previous Union Governments and saying that their contribution to India has been anything but impressive. Our Chief Minister Thalapathy M.K. Stalin was indeed correct in stating that the budget was nothing but a huge disappointment to Tamil Nadu and its marginalised sections of society and that there was no effort taken in the budget to provide financial independence to the states. In light of the current state of the economy, rising commodity prices, and supply chain disruptions, the Tamil Nadu Chamber has asked the MSME Ministry for a long-term sustainable model to support the sector’s growth in the next Union Budget of 2023—2024. According to data from the Annual MSME Report 2021-2022, which was included in the Tamil Nadu Chamber’s press release, there are 63 million MSMEs worldwide that employ over 110 million people and account for 30% of the GDP and almost 50% of exports. Rs 9,000 crore for the micro, small and medium enterprises was very meagre as the MSME sector was the backbone of the country’s economy and also on selfreliance. Due to unsustainable demands on their working capital and price mismatches between the negotiated price of supply to the buyer and the cost of production, a significant number of spinning, weaving, and garment units are in danger of closing. As a result, the garment industry is experiencing enormous losses, and many MSME businesses have already stopped operating. This has led to significant job losses in a sector that often creates jobs. Stock declarations could’ve been made mandatory, import duties on cotton for contracts entered before 30th November 2022 could’ve been waived off, cash credit limits could’ve been established, money margins sought by banks could’ve been reduced but what was done? Nothing! The budget has deviated from the concept of it catering to all states by rejecting the proposal of states like TN, which sought an extension of GST compensation period by another two years, and allocating funds and schemes targeting election bound states. It is like butter in one eye and lime in the other. The people who run this government are known for their divisive tactics and this is the proof. Since the states would not realise the full benefits of capital loans owing to umpteen conditions imposed in availing them, the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu had suggested that the scheme must facilitate states to avail capital loans to develop infrastructure as per their requirement, including replacement of old buses with new ones to encourage public transport. Given this, the numbers provided in Budget 2023-24 are startling to say the least. We have not experienced such a savage cutback of essential social spending in a very long time, and certainly not in the last two decades. In a period of falling employment and lower real wages especially for the rural poor, the allocation for the MNREGA has been cut by around one-third from the likely spending in the current year, to only Rs 60,000 crore. Is it because the scheme has the name of the Father of our country, Mahatma Gandhi? I don’t understand why this government is so mean-minded. The group People’s Action for Employment Guarantee has estimated that the allocation for the coming year should be at least Rs 2, 72,000 crore if the promise of 100 days’ work is to be met even for those who worked on the programme in the current year — this would be only around one-fifth of that. The massive cut in the allocation for the food subsidy by nearly one-third is similarly striking given all the evidence on undernutrition and absolute hunger. The increase in allocation for the National Health Mission will not keep pace with inflation, implying a cut in real terms and an even bigger cut in terms of per capita spending. The much-celebrated public health insurance scheme PM Swasthya Suraksha Yojana was allocated Rs 10,000 crore in the current year but will apparently manage to spend only Rs 8,270 crore. For the coming year, the allocation is only Rs 3,365 crore! Unlike most countries in the world that significantly increased public spending on schooling to allow for students to deal with learning losses during the pandemic, the Indian government did not do so. Instead, even the budget estimate of Rs 63,449 crore for 2022-23 is not expected to be met, with a shortfall of Rs 4,396 crore. And the budget outlay for the coming year is only Rs 5,356 crore more, once again just about keeping the pace with expected inflation. The higher education outlay is slated to increase by a pathetic Rs 3,267 crore, suggesting no real expansion. The union Government’s tall claim that it will increase GER to 50% by 2030 would remain elusive and cannot be achieved without adequate fund allocation. The finance minister spent what seemed like an aeon talking about agriculture — but the total budgetary outlay for agriculture is down, as is that for rural development. Some of the reductions are striking: the Market Intervention Scheme that is supposed to provide price support for farmers when market prices fall below a certain minimum level was announced with much fanfare a few years ago. But the allocation for that scheme has fallen from Rs 1,500 crore to only Rs I lakh! (You read that right — it’s not a typo.) The finance minister announced that the PM-KISAN payments would increase from Rs 6,000 per farmer to Rs 8,000 per farmer in what is clearly one of the few preelection sops — but that is not reflected in the expenditure budget, where the amount allocated is the same as the previous year, Rs 60,000 crore. This means they will have reduced number of beneficiaries under this scheme. Lending support to oil companies termed as “capital expenditure to fund the green transition”! May be the Hon’ble Finance Minister would have thought that the corporate oil companies are too poor to support the Government’s initiative. One of the biggest lies is in the declaration that state governments are being provided hugely increased funds to finance their capital expenditure. In reality, the total transfers to the states are projected to come down. In 2021- 22, such transfers amounted to Rs 4,60,575 crore, but they were reduced to Rs 3,67,204 crore in Budget 2022-23, and the Revised Estimates suggest only Rs 3,07,204 crore will be transferred in the current fiscal year. The Budget 2023-24 provision is for Rs 3,59,470 crore. 10.02.2023 872 Meanwhile the states’ share of tax revenues has come down to only 30.4% in the upcoming Budget, down from 33.2% in 2021-22, and a very far cry from the 42% share promised by the 14th Finance Commission. Clearly, this Government is either not interested in genuine macroeconomic revival or persists in the foolish belief that just announcing big capital spending plans can cause people to overlook the actual realities. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) has seen its budget decline to Rs 60,000 crore as against Rs 89,400 crore in the revised estimates for 2022-23. Even though MGNREGA wages are only twothirds of the private market wages, the high demand for work under the scheme is ample proof of the crisis of jobs and earnings in rural areas. This is the lowest amount allocated in the last five years compared to actual expenditure on the scheme. With spiralling inflation and even the cushion of free food grains having been withdrawn, rural areas are likely to face an uncertain situation. With the distress in the rural economy spilling over to urban areas and in particular the urban middle class, there were expectations that at least the latter will benefit from the budget. Not surprisingly, the only thing they got was a carrot to shift to the new tax regime, which has failed to take off even after two years of implementation. On the other hand, there was something tangible for the super-rich with a reduction in tax rates. The impact of these is unlikely to spur demand from the middle class, much less from the super-rich. None of this is surprising given the government’s preference for supplyside interventions even when there is excess capacity in a demandconstrained economy. It is this understanding that is reflected in an almost one-third increase in allocation for investment. A bulk of this is in railways and roads a much-needed boost to the infrastructure sector. But given the small share of public investment, it is unlikely to be sufficient unless it is accompanied by the private sector increasing its investment. The track record in this regard has, unfortunately, not been very good with the private sector neither responding to rising public investment nor tax subsidies, as were given in 2019. This will have a negligible impact on employment and domestic demand given the low employment elasticity of these investments. Regardless, the increase in investments is welcome. But if this has been achieved at the cost of sacrificing demand, can it revive the economy? In the last 5 years, the Government has constructed 567 Multipurpose Cyclone Centres under the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Strategy in Odisha, Andhra, Gujarat and West Bengal, but not a single MCC was constructed in Tamil Nadu, which has been ravaged frequently in the last 5 years than any other State in the Country. The condition remains the same with the current budget as well! Medicinal plants from Tamil Nadu are the true backbones of a wide range of local health traditions, in addition to the codified medical systems such as Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homeopathy. Several medicinal plant species constitute many classical drug formulations and hundreds of home remedies. The people of Tamil Nadu’s rural areas depend on medicinal plants for their livelihood and health security in addition to serving as a significant supply of raw materials for the traditional medicine and herbal business. Additionally, there is a chance to make money by promoting these priceless, uncommon plants both domestically and internationally. While Tamil Nadu can be the perfect option for setting up an Integrated Medical Plant Conservation Park, do we see talks about the same despite the apparent thrust the current government places on AYUSH? Absolutely not. The Virudhunagar District’s Sivakasi Taluk boasts over 1000 firecracker companies and a thriving printing industry, both of which are presently suffering as a result of the ban on fireworks and the highest GST rates of 28%. What efforts has the government taken to safeguard the welfare of the 6 lakh workers involved in the business, despite being aware of this number? As a significant corporation, Hosur is home to thousands of SMEs and MSMEs, hundreds of industrial houses, and the oldest and biggest SIPCOT in Tamil Nadu. People from all walks of life commute to and from this location, but Hosur is still out of the way of the metro rail services that could make it easier and more convenient for thousands of people to travel. The strategic sale of the Integrated Salem Steel Plant in Tamil Nadu’s Salem district to a private corporate business has received preliminary approval from the Union Government. The Union government has made an effort to conceal the overall losses of Maharashtra company SAIL, which are the result of blatant mismanagement and increasing administrative costs that are not essential. They aim that the factory is a loss-making unit of SAIL. The administration must establish appropriate accountability for the situation and stop making such hasty judgments. The Sethusamudram Channel Project is crucial for boosting Tamil Nadu’s and India’s economic growth. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the prime minister during the time of the National Democratic Alliance government, approved the project’s feasibility assessment. The project’s alignment was completed at that point. Due to the persistent efforts of our erratic leader Dr. This project was subsequently approved during the United Progressive Alliance government led by Congress in 2004 and opened on July 2, 2005. However, a roadblock was made while this project was being worked on, causing it to be put on hold. The development and growth of Tamil Nadu will be hampered by the Project’s ongoing execution delays. If this project is carried out, the Indian economy will improve, especially in Tamil Nadu’s southern districts, and many job possibilities for the country’s educated and competent youth population will be made available. However, we still do not find any mentions of the Project by the Union government Chennai has a water shortage as a result of its constantly growing population. The Ministry of Urban Development benchmark of 135 Ipcpd (litre per person per day), which is lower than the household water supply, according to the 2011 Census, could not stop urban and industrial growth or real estate growth in Chennai, a megacity. It is crucial to manage and protect the available water resources because Chennai’s urban population is expected to grow over the coming years. Additionally, adequate water resource augmentation should be done for every square kilometre of urban growth. Even though the high time arrived a long time ago, a comprehensive solution to our water woes supported by the Ministry is still a distant dream for Chennai. It is pure actions, determination and commitment to the nation and not great oratory skills, acts of self-appreciation or the apparent power to communicate well that is going to propel the nation towards true prosperity. If the current Union government actually wants people to repose their faith in them, it needs to act up. It needs to brace up and realise the responsibility of running a nation like ours. It needs to accept the diversity this nation brings and at least attempt to cater to the needs of the many diverse sections of this society for starters, be it economic, social, religious, lingual or cultural! This was the last full budget in which government could undertake serious steps to revive the economy. That required prioritising allocations towards reviving consumption demand, spurring private investment and protecting people from the vulnerabilities of high inflation and a slowing economy. The budget does none of this. This budget is different from others in the last three years. It was bad in 202122, worse in 2022-23 and worst in 2023-24. There is no vision to create jobs for fast growing unemployed youth population. No plans to tackle escalating price rise and inflation. No intent to stem inequality. The union ministers seem to have borrowed the term “Amrit Kaal” from the Hon’ble Prime Minister and the Government has termed this budget as Amrit Kaal budget, but in reality, the budget is a bad budget for the poor and middle-class agrarians and dangerous for the large unemployed youth population. This Budget has No Vision, No Mission full of lies and Illusion. Hope this would be the last full budget of the Government run by the whims and fancies of few oligarchs. Thank You.