Budget 2016-Harbinger of New Hope

Author: Dr. Malini Nagulapalli,
(Mentor, Management of Public Finance)

A large part of discourse on presentation of every budget is to disentangle its central theme. Various set of viewpoints are raised mostly depending on the intellectual and ideological leanings. Beauty of the democracy is so pervasive that from among the din of cacophony of not so fully pure voices it never fails to churn out the thin common thread of truth and purity.

Little doubt remains that centrality of the budget 2016 is that of one gigantic push on agriculture and rural economy. Idea is writ so large in the proposals presented. As Victor Hugo, noted French poet and novelist, once said “All the forces in the world are not as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” Whether or not push on agriculture and rural economy is one such idea is too early to pronounce verdict on; the euphoria created by enthusiast and cheerleaders notwithstanding.

Need of such push was highly and rightfully craved and their deniability in the budget proposals would have reflected severest of insensitivity of a kind on the part of polity. The looming distress in the sector was too razor sharp to be deferred. Any journey ahead without settling and fixing it first would have been fraught with consequences that any sensible being would shudder to even think of.

Push in the budget in a limited sense is directional and visionary; but in a sense of just one first right step. Provisioning of expenditure not an end itself and be it all. Let there be no mistake on that count. In the past, more the sloganeering, posturing and provisioning, more has been the pile up of the distress. This sector has been a sort of victim of drum beating, chest thumping and lip service and if the history repeats, the repeat performance will be at great peril. To be realist, the real action is yet to begin. Softer of the option ushered in, harder one to follow.

Having drawn home the caution, two or three challenges need to be highlighted. As it is said that devil is always in derails and this one is no exception. There are twin monstrous challenges ahead. That is the capacity to spend and spend it well. Our record, as a country, in both aspects, to say the least, is a bit of trash. Capacity of the states, where the real action will unveil, is in pith wanting and leaves much to be desired.

It is no great secret that spending apparatus in the country is archaic, inadequate, inefficient, irrational and mired in politically favored choices. States machineries have been woefully deficient even in timely utilization the present level of outlays. To expect the same apparatus to utilize amounts of the scale being provisioned is like asking for the moon.

Our capacity as a nation to spend and spend well has to undergo some real reformation of the whole architecture of spending in the line ministries. Federalism of the polity in the country makes the task further daunting as no one size fits all kind of reforms, centrally decided and delivered, are going to work. As the cliché goes capacity building is a process and not an event and there are hardly any quick fix solutions.

Silver lining in all this is the concept of competitive and cooperative federalism that is slowly but surely coming home with the states. With the new aspirational India, it is the governance and delivery structures that are more than anything else are ensuring seat of power. It is heartening therefore that more and more political parties in power or out of power in the states perforce strive to meet aspirations of people using better governance and better delivery structure. Enhancing capacities in the states have to be a big priority to translate increased outlays into outcomes.

Capacity building to spend and spend well will require a thorough overhaul of followings:

  • Processes
  • People
  • Planning
  • Procedures
  • Projects
  • Procurements
  • Plans
  • Polity
  • Panchayats
  • Paradigms

Use of technology in this process of change is going to be biggest enabler and every exercise of reorientation will take care to build new architecture around the technology only.

Good thing, in post budget discourse in the country, is that after some initial knee jerk negative reactions, the idea is being received well in the nation. Businesses and industry need to be given due credit for showing great maturity and receiving the idea in complete good faith. Usual feeling of envy is conspicuously absent; sectarian thinking is substantially diluted, perhaps nation seen before self, in great measure, for the first time.

What is the “idea whose time has come” that we as a nation are waiting with a baited breath? Push to agriculture and rural economy, if it materializes, is just a mean to an end. We have to be one nation and not two separate countries within it – Bharat and India. It is just unacceptable. Sun has to set in on this archaic mind set. On the horizon is the idea of new one Bharat. Let us welcome this. Let us be catalyst in its rise.

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