Excepting greater State intervention in the welfare of SCs, STs and BCs

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s budget has largely been read as “pro-people”, even though his detractors argue that this focus is with a clear eye on the coming Lok Sabha polls.

A closer reading of the budget, however, throws up many issues that hardly justify the much-talked about Socialist leanings of Mr. Siddaramaiah.

One particularly glaring contradiction between the so-called welfare intent and neo-liberal pulls can be seen in the agriculture sector.

Opposite directions

While the budget announces the formation of an Agricultural Prices Commission to fix suitable prices, it also says that the report of the Agriculture Marketing Reforms Committee will be implemented from this year.

It is interesting to note that the report in question, submitted in 2012 to the Union government, recommended doing away with State regulation of agricultural marketing and argued against Minimum Support Price.

The budget offers nothing for unorganised agricultural labourers.

In the primary education sector too, there is hardly any suggestion of a more equitable common system of schooling. The very first proposal under this head suggests that the public-private partnership model will be continued with a specific thrust on help from “willing philanthropists, institutions and corporate sector”.

As far as higher education is concerned, interestingly, the budget is silent on the controversial decision of the BJP government on private universities.

This thrust on private sector is only more pronounced on the infrastructure front, with the government seeking to bring an amendment to Infrastructure Policy of 2007 to encourage all infrastructure development through public-private partnership model.

A lack of welfare intent is visible on the question of labour too.

Barring the promise of phasing out contractual system in the hiring of pourakarmikas, none of the other measures address the question of wages or other forms of labour welfare.

The singular thrust under this head appears to be skill training. On the question of revenue generation, the Chief Minister has made it clear that one way of augmenting resources would be through an increase in user fee.

This, in essence, means that all services that were free or cheap will see a hike. He has fixed the target of mobilising an additional Rs. 4,038 crore from such non-tax revenues. He has not only announced “rationally” increasing water rates, and greater privatisation of water supply, but also toll collection on nine major State highways.

Some shifts

While Mr. Siddaramaiah’s budget does show some shifts compared to the BJP regime — markedly in terms of greater State intervention for the welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes and the absence of generous donations to religious maths and institutions run by dominant castes — there is little else to indicate that welfare is indeed the larger focus.

More In: Karnataka | National