B S Raghavan

Budget-mania running its course

Updated on: Mar 04, 2011

The echoes of the recently unveiled Budget 2011 are still reverberating in media columns, TV discussions and Web sites, both nationwide and round the globe. In the latter case, though, they are rapidly fading away, overtaken by news of happenings in Libya, Pakistan and elsewhere which cannot wait.

One of the interesting debates on CNN-IBN was on whether there was too much media hype about the Budget, especially when, in the era of liberalisation and open government, it contains few surprises. No schemes are dropped, some existing schemes are further embellished, a few new facilities and concessions are added, all Ministries and their ongoing activities invariably have their allocations increased and, generally, the presentation as well as the format are on familiar lines.

Three blind spots

The drift of the discussion was that altogether the Budget was over-dramatised, mostly from the standpoint of the suited, booted, perfumed gentry, in the frenetic quest of the media for TRP ratings or to boost newspaper circulation. The audience poll at the end of the show also overwhelmingly concurred.

Well, nobody can stop the Budget-fever from running its course like the common cold or some viral infection. Likewise, chewing the cud(get) is also inevitable. After all, without such effervescence, Budget is no fun. In my reckoning, it does not do any harm either. Coming to the Budget, there are three blind spots that are greatly perturbing. First, every Budget is cluttered with a number of new schemes and mission-mode projects. Many of them are meant to serve the same or similar purposes or fall within the purview of the same Ministry or Department.

So many of them scattered so widely is bound to make it difficult to monitor their implementation, evaluate their performance and ensure proper utilisation of funds. It will be worthwhile for the Finance Minister to assign to a group the task of merging and consolidating them into fewer entities by eliminating the redundant ones.

Performance yardsticks

Second, the non-Plan expenditure of which a predominant part consists of salaries to .employees is vaulting by leaps and bounds.

From Rs 7,21,096 crore in 2009-10, it has jumped steeply to Rs.8,21,552 crore in 2010-11. Although the provision for 2011-12 is Rs 8,16,182 crore, a safe bet, going by past trends, it may cross Rs 9 lakh crore. It is unfair to taxpayers to allow burgeoning of establishment expenditure without any assurance of commensurate output by employees.

The Finance Minister will find that he will be able to get a lot more done with less outlay if he binds each grade of employees to specific yardsticks and targets, as used to be the case at the time of Independence, and appraise their performance on that basis.

Similarly, instead of merely going on raising Defence outlay year after year, ways of getting the maximum bang for every buck should be explored.

This can be done by taking a critical look at the give-aways, improving the manpower-firepower ratio, taking stern measures against wastage, pilferage and loss, and replacing obsolete, inefficient armaments and equipment by modern ones. For this purpose, the report of the Arun Singh Committee which went into all these aspects in 1980s should be revisited and, if necessary, updated with the help of a small committee and implemented with a sense of urgency.

Finally, all dreams of becoming a developed country, the estimates of growth in GDP, and computation and mobilisation of resources for investments will come to naught unless the Finance Minister boldly sensitises the Government and the people to the imperative of achieving zero population growth within a stated time-frame, and makes adequate provision for it.

Creation of jobs, environment protection, stemming the exodus to urban areas, arrest of proliferation of slums, reaching food, health and education for all — all these will go up in smoke if the looming problems created by exploding population are not anticipated and solutions found.

Published on March 11, 2011

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