Vol. XLIII No. 06 February 10, 2019

Budget a Desperate Bid by Modi Government to Attract Votes

THE interim union budget for 2019-20, placed in parliament by interim finance minister Piyush Goyal on February 1, is a fraudulent attempt to cheat the people in a desperate bid by the BJP-led government to attract votes when defeat in the ensuing parliamentary election is staring at its face.

Various class and mass organisations of the CPI(M) have rejected the budget, the last before the term of this BJP government led by Narendra Modi ends, as another jumla. They have called upon the people of the country, especially the workers, farmers and the poor, to expose the Modi government for failing on its promises and ensure its defeat in the Lok Sabha election due this summer. Below we publish their reactions to the budget.

Anti-Farmer Budget

The All India Kisan Sabha considers as too meager the lollipop-offer of Rs 6,000 per year to the farmers holding land up to two hectors or five acres. Rs 500 per month or Rs 15 per day for a farmer family is not going to resolve the severe crisis faced by the community. Moreover, the scheme will exclude agriculture labourers, tenant farmers and landless families. In dry and desert regions, the ceiling of two hectors is so low that it will result in exclusion of most vulnerable farmers. It is just another ‘jumla’ by the BJP-led government.

In Kerala, the state government procures paddy at Rs 800 more than the centrally-fixed minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 1,700 per quintal. The gram panchayath gives Rs 17,000 per hector as incentive for paddy farmers over subsidies. In comparison to such pro-peasant measures, the present proposal of the Modi Government is like promising small bribe to get their votes after robbing farmers of their income for the past five years.  

The genuine demand of the peasantry is to implement the promise of C2+50 per cent to all crops as recommended by the MS Swaminathan Commission and sufficient arrangement for procurement of produce so that farmers will have remunerative income and cultivation will be profitable. If farmers are getting their due then they will be capable of paying back their loans with interest and live life with dignity. Instead of doing this, the Narendra Modi government is resorting to populist appeasement measures and it cannot be accepted.

Another important demand of writing off the debt liability of the peasantry also is unheeded in the budget and the AIKS considers it as a shameless betrayal. In the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary election, the BJP had promised freedom for the peasantry from indebtedness and in the past five years, the government maintained criminal negligence on this important demand.

If the allocation for the money transfer is kept aside, the actual allocation for agriculture, rural development, education and healthcare have been reduced in real terms, considering the inflation. This will have long-term negative impact on agriculture sector and the crisis will be grave in the years to come.

The All India Agricultural Workers Union said the budget was based on ‘jumlas’.

Despite its being the longest interim budget speech ever, the treasurer of the BJP party has in his new position, had very little to say. First the slow rise of the fiscal deficit from 3.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent hides a lot of goings on behind the scenes. If one goes by the CAG report for 2017-18, there is the clear hint of the underestimation of expenditure and liabilities and an overestimation of the returns. Also, the estimated figure of the GDP has been raised from 6.7 per cent to 7.2 per cent. At the same time the failure of the central government to publish the appalling figures of the growing number of unemployed as never before are yet another indictment of the way in which this government hides the truth. Obviously, there is a lot of doubtful fudging of figures and also the diversion of funds from various financial institutions, not to speak of the plunder of Public Sector Units paid for by the Indian people and transferred to private companies.

On the other hand, the only legislation that offers work to those who need it, the MGNREGA, has only been granted Rs 60,000 crore when in 2017-18 Rs 61,426 crore was spent. This was insufficient for the expenditure incurred that year by Rs 4,150 crore. This too was grossly inadequate for the 7.2 crore people seeking jobs of whom, no less than 1.25 crores never got any work and were not paid unemployment relief. Clearly the amount needed to implement this legislation properly is Rs 1,60,000 crore which is more than three times the amount touted in the budget by the Finance Minister, who was earlier the treasurer of the BJP.

Budget Fails to Address Job Crisis

The budget vainly tries to give the misleading impression of providing so-called ‘sops’ to different sections of people. In fact, it does not waver a bit from the pro-corporate, neoliberal agenda which has caused so much distress to the workers, peasants and the poor, who have come out in their lakhs protesting these policies in the past few months compelling the government to talk about their issues, the CITU said.

The budget has nothing to improve the sagging economy through public investment, employment generation and improving the purchasing power of the people. Rather the arrogant announcement of continuing with the disinvestment and privatisation of PSUs and other “reforms” in the pipeline reflect the real intention to pave the way for destruction of self-reliance and national economy as a whole.

It does not address the alarming levels of unemployment, which have reached a 45-year high and which the BJP government has sought to suppress by not releasing the data and manufacturing data in its favour. There is no concrete proposal except the rhetoric of ‘job seekers becoming job providers’, which those in government have been repeating ad nauseum without any visible action at the ground. The lack of any concrete plan becomes clear with the acting finance minister declaring the “employment generation is not confined merely to government services or factories”. Probably he wants to reiterate the advice of his colleagues in BJP to the youth to sell pakodas, set up pan shops or rear cows.

The interim budget has nothing to improve the wages of workers and incomes of peasants. It ignores the demand for loan waiver to the peasants. It does not ensure appropriate price for the farmers’ produce, nor the ensured procurement mechanism for all the crops. It does not even mention minimum wage of Rs 18,000 for workers. The allocation for MGNREGA has in fact been reduced compared to last year, even when the number of days of work has drastically come down and workers continue to be unpaid for several months. The unpaid wages for the work done under MNREGA crossed Rs 5,150 crore in 2017-18 itself as per official data.  

The pension of Rs 3,000 for unorganised workers is another exercise in deceit without there being any scheme. The allocation of a meagre Rs 500 crores itself is an indication of the lack of seriousness and honesty in covering the more than 40 crore unorganised workers in the country. And they will receive this pension only by contributing continuously up to the age of 60, which most of them cannot do. The real fraudulent intention behind announcement of this programme becomes clear when the cow-protection receives a bigger allocation of Rs 750 crore.

Budget Anti-Women

The All India Democratic Women’s Association rejects the high-decibel interim budget. The arrogance and the tone of the budget shows that the Modi government has chosen to ignore the miseries of the people, and instead concentrates on a marketing blitz that to fool the people again. It may be recalled, that in the weeks prior to the budget, the AIDWA had submitted a memorandum to the finance minister in which it outlined the main challenges to women and their families. However, a preliminary look at the budget shows that it has failed to solve the immediate problems faced by women and working-class families.

Crimes and instances of violence against women have reached alarming proportions since the advent of the Modi government. India ranks 103 amongst 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2018 and India’s gender pay gap remains one of the highest in the world. In this situation, India’s women and their families face extreme economic distress which requires urgent government intervention. However, this budget only shows them a ‘vision’ of ‘minimum government’ which is touted as an ideal in these globalised and neo-liberal times.

It is pertinent to note that the interim gender budget for 2019-20 has come down from 0.66 per cent of the GDP to 0.62 per cent of the GDP and the total gender budget has declined from 5 per cent of the total expenditure in 2018-19 to 4.7 per cent of the total expenditure in 2019-20. The allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development remains at a paltry one per cent of the total expenditure. Hence, the dream of an empowered woman is just a mirage created by the Modi government to cover off its failures.

It is well known that more than 95 per cent of women workers are in informal employment and have been demanding universal social security. However, instead of solving their immediate problems, the government has shown them another pipedream: the proposed Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan Scheme for unorganised sector and domestic workers. This pension scheme will come into effect once the worker becomes 60 years of age when a person will get a paltry Rs 3,000 per month whose value may be negligible by then.

The finance minister has claimed their commitment towards women by promoting the Ujjwala scheme for clean fuel. The government claims that it has already provided six crore free LPG connections and that it will provide two crore more connections by the time of the elections. However, the actual allocation for Ujjwala scheme has gone up by just Rs 10 crore, most of which is spent on advertisements. Further, studies on the scheme show that most women stop refilling their cylinders after the first time because they cannot afford to buy gas cylinders. In fact, the Ujjwala scheme has resulted in profiteering by the oil companies. Another flagship scheme of the government, the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme has not seen any increased allocations. Available data shows that not more than 60 per cent of the funds were spent in this scheme and 56 per cent of these were spent in publicity. It is evident that the government is busy spending more money in publicising its hollow schemes, rather than doing actual work. There is also no improvement in the schemes addressing violence such as the Nirabhaya Scheme and the One Stop Crisis Centres for rape victims. No additional allocations have been made for other gender related schemes, and in some cases like secondary education for women, the allocations have actually come down. The same is true of health care, where the increased allocations are barely enough to meet the premium of health insurance companies under the much-touted Ayushman Bharat Scheme.

No Hike in Remuneration for Anganwadi Workers, Helpers

In the interim budget 2019-20, the BJP government has again cheated the 26 lakh anganwadi workers and helpers. The budget has neglected not only the long-pending demands of the anganwadi workers and helpers but also has neglected the crucial question of malnutrition in the country.

The prime minister had declared increase in remuneration of anganwadi workers, mini workers and helpers on 11 September 2018. He also declared that it will be implemented from 1 October 2019 and the workers will get it before Diwali. But till date the anganwadi workers and helpers in most of the states are yet to receive it. In the budget speech the Interim Finance Minister has mentioned the increase in remuneration of anganwadi and ASHA workers declared by the Prime Minister in September, in such a way to create an impression that there is further increase in remuneration of anganwadi employees. But the budget figures reveal that the budget allocation is not even adequate to implement the increase announced by the government in September.

The budget does not mention anything about the pension for the anganwadi employees which the government has been promising since 2014. The irony is that the Government of India stated in September 2017 that it is going to spent Rs 12,000 crore for the increased allocation for the supplementary nutrition in the anganwadi centres. This means an additional Rs 6,000 crore per year for nutrition. But neither the budget last year nor this year includes this allocation. It is obvious that the Modi-led BJP government, even in this election budget, tried to misguide the anganwadi workers and helpers as well as the people of the country while neglecting the two crore lactating mothers and 10 crore children under six years of age.

The anganwadi workers and helpers will organise a massive mobilisation in New Delhi on 25 February 2019 against non-allocation of adequate funds, against cash transfer and for the implementation of 45th ILC recommendations on minimum wages and pension for the scheme workers.

Disabled Waiting to be Counted

The utter lack of concern towards issues concerning the disabled was very much evident in the budget. Not once during his entire speech containing 98 points did the finance minister refer to the disabled or commit to ameliorating the vast majority of them who live in terrible conditions. The only reference in passing was in connection with the ‘Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana’ scheme, the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) said.

The interim budget comes as a big disappointment to the disabled community in the country. It seems as though the disabled do not figure in the finance minister’s scheme of things.

The passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 (RPD Act) had ushered in great hopes and expectations among the disabled community who continue to be on the margins. However, the outlays for the various positive provisions contained in the Act continue to be miserly. Further, no new scheme has been announced or any substantial increase in allocation for existing schemes been made despite the mandate of the RPD Act. There has been no upward revision in the amount of disability pension and it remains stagnant at Rs 300 a month for the past many years.

Despite tall claims being made of the “accessible India” campaign it has not been backed with adequate financial resources. Road, rail and other means of transport continue to be inaccessible for a large number of people with disabilities. Unfortunately, in the absence of disaggregated data on allocations across various ministries for disability a clearer picture does not emerge. This has been one of the key demands of the disability sector.