Budget 2020

With an eye on elections, Govt may do more to deliver on populist promises

Surabhi Twesh Mishra New Delhi | Updated on January 10, 2018 Published on January 10, 2018

24x7 electricity, maternity benefits and universal pension are among key demands

Flagship social sector schemes, be it for opening of bank accounts, providing clean cooking fuel through LPG connections to households or even ensuring that bed sheets are changed everyday at ESIC hospitals, have been a key focus area of the NDA government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he assumed office in 2014.

Not surprisingly, the Union Budget 2018-19 is also expected to expand on this agenda, including implementing pending promises such as providing 24x7 electricity connections to all households across the country, a universal maternity benefit scheme and drinking water and sanitation access under Swachh Bharat.

With the General Elections just a year away, expectations are that the upcoming Budget could have more of a populist focus to soften public sentiment, especially after demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax.

“With this being the last full Budget of the NDA government before elections, chances are that there will be more of a populist focus with a view on schemes that would benefit common people — be it a universal pension or measures for the farm sector,” said a senior official.

He, however, pointed out that large giveaways may not be possible given the current fiscal position of the Centre, where a slowdown in the economy and roll-out of the GST have impacted tax collections this fiscal.

The big-ticket announcement continues to be the ₹16,320-crore Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (SAUBHAGYA) that was launched in September last year to provide electricity connections to around four crore families in rural and urban areas by March 2019.

Consolidating schemes

While the onus is now on the States to set up camps and start connecting homes, more policy direction is likely as it was also a part of the NDA’s 2016 Election Manifesto. The Budget is also expected to look at consolidating two popular measures of the NDA government — Direct Benefit Transfer and the Ujjwala scheme.

Not withstanding concerns of use of Aadhaar for authenticating beneficiaries, the DBT scheme for cash transfer of welfare benefits will get a further boost in the coming fiscal.

“The food and fertiliser subsidies will be brought onto the DBT platform fully over the next six months,” said an official, adding that all States, with the exception of West Bengal, are now working on DBT.

DBT for fertiliser

Almost all Central schemes are now on board the DBT platform. Under the food subsidy, 53 per cent of fair price shops have been covered and 80 per cent of the database has been digitised. The government is also hopeful that DBT for fertiliser will be rolled out across the country by the end of March.

“2018 will be the year of consolidation of the scheme. Till now the form was being created, but now the content will flow in,” he said, adding this will also help accrue savings to the tune of 10-15 per cent of the allocation or nearly ₹45,000 crore.

The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, which aims to provide free cooking gas connections to below poverty line households, is set to expand further and aims to cover five crore households under PMUY till 2018-19.

The demand for providing basic pension and universal social security was a key talking point at a pre-Budget meeting of social sector representatives with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley though the government contends that it has already rolled out the Atal Pension Yojana and schemes for life and accident insurance schemes.

The mass cleanliness campaign for Swachh Bharat could also see more policy interventions in the coming year. Though over 6.3 crore toilets have been constructed, experts point out that behavioural change is also needed for sanitation and cleanliness to become a part of daily life of citizens.

Published on January 10, 2018

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