A power cut — and general skepticism — in the constituency of Finance Minister P. Chidambaram meant his budget speech on Thursday went largely unnoticed amongst his electorate. But as the details of the budgetary proposals filtered through town, many were quick to grasp the ways in which their own lives were likely to be affected.
N. Nayagam, 60, who engages in farming for a living sought The Hindu’s help in tapping into the massive agricultural credits Mr. Chidambaram had announced. But ‘Omega’ Kannan, who runs a shop selling mobile telephones, complained loudly that the higher excise imposed by the budget would hit his business.
This sleepy town in Tamil Nadu, home turf of Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, is yet to fully grasp the nuances of the Union budget he presented on Thursday. Some didn’t get to see his presentation on TV due to power cut; only a few knew the key proposals and those who did know were somewhat critical. A cross-section of the people The Hindu spoke to greeted the budget with a mix of hope and scepticism.
However, the name of Mr. Chidambaram — who presented his eighth Union budget in his long, high-profile political career and his first in UPA-II — continues to evoke awe and native pride among the aam aadmi here.
For N. Nayagam, 60, from suburban Vallakulam, the budget means nothing. A school dropout, he has been engaged in farming for the past four decades and he has not gone beyond the local primary agriculture cooperative society for credit.
When he was told that Mr. Chidambaram had allocated a whopping Rs. 7 lakh crore to farmers as agriculture credit, Mr. Nayagam pleaded for this correspondent’s help in getting a loan as he planned to dispose of 50 cents of farmland for his daughter’s wedding.
“I have been hearing about this presentation of budget for several years, but it has no use for the poor and common people,” said B. Selvaraj (70), a tailor from Samiarpatti, 3 km from here. Those in power knew better and they should do something good for the poor, he said.
For M. Sultan (49), a businessman, skyrocketing prices of essentials were the major worry. “Let them come out with any number of proposals after containing price rise. Today, rice is sold at Rs. 40 a kg.”
For ‘Omega’ Kannan, who is running a mobile phone shop, the budget proposals came as a rude shock. “We are already suffering a lot after the intrusion of Chinese sets into the market. The duty on mobiles would hit business.” This would push up the price line of basic Samsung models by at least Rs. 500. Mr. Chidambaram disappointed the salaried section, said V. Venkatesan, a retired government employee. Every year, the anxious salaried people are glued to TV sets during budget presentation expecting that income tax slabs would be pushed up, but it was disappointing this year.
The Rs. 2,000-tax credit for those who earn income up to Rs. 5 lakh would not benefit much, said N. Jayakumar, a teacher in a Nattarasankottai school. With senior employees having already crossed the Rs. 5-lakh annual salary mark, the proposal would benefit only 20 per cent of the salaried class.
Auditors G. Rajkumar and R. Babu said the tax relief to those who had availed themselves of home loans would benefit a large segment of people. Being powerful at the Centre, Mr. Chidambaram could have brought some major industries to his constituency, largely rural, they said.
V. Thilagam (37), heading a women’s self-help group, is elated as the Minister has allocated more funds for SHGs. Her group has a revolving fund of about Rs. 65,000 and has been lending Rs. 10,000 to its members at low interest. “If we get more money, we will help more women.”
L. Adhimoolam, district secretary of the Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Association, welcomed the enhanced allocation for farm loans. “At least now, the doors of nationalised banks should open for farmers.” They would benefit only if they were given Kisan credit cards. Of about 80,000 small and medium farmers in the district, hardly 5,000 farmers availed themselves of farm loans, he said.