"No big idea, just a routine exercise"

Lack of political leadership and guidance has reduced budget presentation to a “routine exercise” that ignored the basic issues of unemployment and inflation, the Bharatiya Janata Party said on Monday.

Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj dismissed the Union budget for 2011-12 as a “performance of a ritual” that had ignored the twin issues.

The only silver lining was the doubling of remuneration for 22 lakh anganwadi workers, a move that her colleague and former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha dubbed an effort to corner one crore votes.

Her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, lamented that the budget was “devoid of the big idea or the big picture” and was reduced to a “packaging exercise” made easier by increased revenues Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee simply put into “this or that sector.”

“It showed a ‘Do Nothing' approach,” Mr. Jaitley said. “With more money in the hands of every government servant after the Sixth Pay Commission, anganwadi workers have also been given something.”

The BJP issued a two-page statement castigating the United Progressive Alliance government for making the much-needed infrastructure a casualty in the budget exercise, for doing nothing much to give an impetus to manufacturing, which alone could generate more jobs, and certainly not showing how inflation would be tackled except by the Reserve Bank of India tinkering with the monetary policy and interest rates.

Mr. Jaitley also regretted that service tax was to be imposed on air-conditioned hotels.

“The tourism industry is one in which the rich pay and the poor and middle-classes get jobs. In India, we have not exploited even a minuscule fraction of our potential. And the high interest rate regime would do no good to the manufacturing sector that has the potential for job creation,” he said. Yes, the services sector was growing, but without any governmental or policy intervention. There was no big idea of how to incentivise public-private partnership for giving a big impetus to the floundering infrastructure. Roads, highways, ports and power had suffered during the UPA regime.

‘Optical illusion'

The party described the 5.4 per cent growth in agriculture as an “optical illusion” since the previous year's growth in this sector was dismal and this year had the advantage of a lower base. Party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman regretted the Finance Minister had not used the budget opportunity to get ahead with the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on agriculture.

On food inflation, she said, “While the FM had noted the huge gap between wholesale and retail prices, he offered no solution.”

And finally, the Opposition party described the budget as “heartless” for, it made health care costlier by taxing diagnostic tests. Even the poor were forced to use private laboratories as equipment was often not in working order in government hospitals. Said a senior leader: “I feel he may have to and should withdraw this tax.”

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