For an outcome Budget

Raghu Dayal | Updated on January 28, 2021

It is time to deliver achchhe din to aam aadmi

Promising a “Budget never seen before”, the Finance Minister has raised people’s expectations hugely.

Coming in the wake of the Covid-19 cataclysm, it is natural to expect the Modi government’s Budget 2022 to provide a blueprint to realise its promise of achchhe din¸ howsoever delayed.

The Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed immense challenges but also opened a window of opportunities for governments and captains of industry to learn compelling lessons and devise course-corrections. With the heightened demand for public services, the government must adapt itself for a post-Covid world, and reshape its structures and processes to respond to crises.

The images of crores migrants trudging to their villages during the lockdown still linger painfully.

The 2017-18 Labour Force Survey counted that, of a total of country’s 46.5 crore workers, around 24 crore (52 per cent) are self-employed, 12 crore (25 per cent) casual labour, and 6 crore (13 per cent) daily wagers. None of this set has social protection and welfare legislation. Only 10 per cent (4.6 crore) are regular employees, including contract labour, without some social benefits. Only the tiny fraction on rolls in Central and State governments — less than 5 per cent of the country’s workforce — is guaranteed all this.

The picture is as stark if one looks at deprivation with a staggering 180 million going hungry and remaining under-nourished: The UN’s 2020 Global Hunger Index ranks India a lowly 94th among 107 countries. Measuring four indicators: under-nourishment reflecting inadequate food availability, child wasting seen in acute under-nutrition, child stunting resulting from chronic under-nutrition, and child mortality which reflects inadequate nutrition as well as unhealthy environment, the GHI reported that 14 per cent of India’s population is under-nourished, 37.4 per cent of its children under-five stunted, and 17.3 per cent ‘wasted’.

Disappointing also is the 2020 UN Report on Human Development Index which has ranked India at the 129th spot among 190 countries. India also remains a very unhappy country, figuring in the bottom quartile, 140th amongst 156 countries in the UN’s World Happiness Report (WHR), 2019. The WHR scale of “happiness” is measured through a survey of how people subjectively evaluate their life. India’s low ranking is explained by poor social support, increasing inequality, rising feeling of alienation, and injustice or unfairness.

India may be world’s fifth biggest economy, in real terms, its per capita income drags it to around 140th rank. To bring in achchhe din, the country has to work hard and optimise use of resources. None of these ambitious changes can happen without a capable and energised workforce. Today, it’s important to emphasise skills and talent, which are crucial to innovate creative solutions and an engaged workforce to carry them out.

Indeed, the country and its leaders face a daunting task. The government needs to articulate a comprehensive post-Covid-19 economic framework, an inclusive and sustained ameliorative welfare architecture designed to effectively respond to situations.

The government boasts of a plethora of welfare, nutrition and food security schemes and programmes, bulk of them centrally-aided. A thicket of fragmented schemes and programmes has led to hundreds of Central and State schemes jostling in silos. The Centre may well repurpose/reframe many of its social welfare schemes, rationalising the spending on them, and allow States to intervene and deliver according to needs. India needs a concerted strategy to coordinate relevant systems, budgets and personnel to design appropriate welfare schemes and deliver, avoiding waste and duplication.

The country needs a new social compact; above all, it needs to transform and overhaul the bureaucratic machinery that just does not deliver. India’s administrative structure remains bloated and wasteful, over-codified and politicised, alienated from the aam aadmi. Civil servants remain procedure-focussed rather than performance-oriented. The Budget is a good re-set opportunity.

The writer is a former Managing Director, Container Corporation of India

Published on January 28, 2021

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