It took a while for the Opposition parties to go beyond phrases like ‘lacklustre’, ‘unimaginative’ and ‘anti-people’, before getting into the nitty-gritty of the issues of concern to them arising out of the proposals.
Senior Opposition leaders conceded, off the record, that they were caught offguard by an economist like budget belying the widespread impression that it would be populist one with an eye on an early 2014 general election.
Ninety minutes after Finance Minister P. Chidambaram presented his proposals in the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley jointly shared with the media their views on the budget. They maintained it had very little to offer to the economy, while conceding that it was a budget presented under adverse circumstances.
“The UPA’s policy paralysis has pushed the economy towards a distress situation. The Finance Minister found himself in a helpless situation with very little elbow space. He has, therefore, presented a budget which only makes certain cosmetic changes in the policy and taxation structure. Though verbose in content, the budget is low in ambition,” they contended.
However, the Congress contested the views of the Opposition and even those of parties such as the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP), which generally support it, and argued that Mr. Chidambaram had maintained a “pragmatic balance” between fiscal prudence and public welfare.
“The interests of farmers are first and foremost in the mind of the government and the interests of farmers will, in no way, be compromised. The budget is certainly not anti-farmer. Huge outlays have been made for farming sector,” party spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said.
On SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s complaint that the budget completely ignored farmers, he said there was no area of agriculture which the Finance Minister had ignored.
D. Raja of the Communist Party of India said the budget was nothing but “statistical jugglery” and “in real terms contained nothing.”
“By talking about women and youth, the Finance Minister has played on the sentiment that prevails in the country … He should have addressed issues like revenue generation. There is no mention of black money, price rise, inflation … It shows his helplessness and the hopeless situation created by the UPA.”
Shivanand Tiwari of the Janata Dal (United) said it was a budget drawn by a government in election mode. “But he has not talked about from where he will get the money. He has not addressed the issue of inflation and how he will rejuvenate economic growth.”
While Minister of State for Agriculture Tariq Anwar described the budget as “balanced,” M. Venkaiah Naidu charged the government with bringing the economy to “bankruptcy.”
“The FM did not unveil any plan to revive economy, agriculture and businesses. The allocation for their flagship programmes is also meagre. Farmers are crying and dying and there is nothing to raise their remunerative price. There is no talk of checking inflation and on how he will mobilise resources.”
The CPI(M) described Mr. Chidambaram’s proposals as patently anti-poor. It maintained the budget had failed to address what was urgently required to get out of the situation of low growth, high inflation and higher unemployment.
“The Finance Minister has expressed concern about the fiscal deficit whose revised estimate is Rs. 5,20,925 crore. But this is lower than the revenue forgone figure of Rs. 5,73,630 crore. This implies that the fiscal deficit is primarily caused by the sops given to the rich in terms of revenue foregone and the burden of meeting this deficit is passed on to the poor by means of cutting expenditures,” the CPI(M) Polit Bureau said in a statement, adding the total subsidies declined, compared to last year’s revised estimate, by about Rs. 26,571 crore and the rise in the subsidies in food in the context of the much touted food security was only minuscule.