new thrust

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 02 Feb 2018 10:37:13

AS EXPECTED Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley has spelt out agriculture, healthcare and education as his new thrust areas for the coming financial year. The enhanced allocation of funds in the annual budget, which Mr. Jaitley presented in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, the first day of the month of February, to agriculture, healthcare and education spells out the direction that the Government wants to give to the growth of the economy in the coming year as well as future. The thrust is especially pronounced on the agriculture sector with an enhanced allocation of Rs. 11 lakh crore from last year’s Rs. 10 lakh crore as the Government seeks to address the woes of the distressed farm and rural sector.

Similarly, the Government’s anxiety over improving the quality of education and also expanding the coverage of literacy to uncovered sections of the population is reflected in the Finance Minister’s budget speech. With the growing economy the need for skilled manpower to handle advanced technology can hardly be overemphasised. Right from the beginning, Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and his cabinet colleagues have been laying great emphasis on skill development among the country’s young population so as to meet the needs of the industry and also enhance employability among the youth. Accordingly, crash programmes too have been undertaken for the purpose. Hence it would be interesting to see the results of this programme. Since the Finance Minister has laid stress on technical education in his budget speech, it is assumed that the programme is yielding results.

The Finance Minister’s another thrust area is the healthcare sector. He has very rightly focused on universal health care and has announced the National Health Protection scheme which will provide medical insurance to 10 crore poor households in the country with a cover of Rs. five lakh per family. This is for the first time in the country that such a comprehensive healthcare scheme for the poor has been announced. The needy will certainly heave a big sigh of relief as healthcare is going out of the reach of the poor with the public sector healthcare infrastructure inadequately equipped to deal with their health issues and the private sector medical system proving out of bounds. It was, therefore, necessary for the Government to take the initiative in this critical area of human welfare. As part of this expansion of healthcare programme, the Government has proposed to open medical colleges at district headquarters.

Mr. Jaitley’s budget has another significant feature in rural housing. The Prime Minister has been stressing on constructing houses for the poor, especially in the rural areas and schemes are being implemented under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY). The target is to provide houses to all poor in the next four years and Mr. Jaitley has announced further fillip to construction of one crore houses under PMAY.

While these three areas were in the focus in Mr. Jaitley’s budget, quite expectedly and rightly the rural and farm sector has received a major emphasis in the budget. While announcing the budget the Finance Minister has moved from “ease of doing business” to “ease of living.” This, therefore, is the new focus area for the Government where the distressed farm sector, languishing rural sector, the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) will now onwards receive greater Governmental attention and funds allocation as is reflected in Thursday’s budget.

Having paid much attention to usher in reforms in the administration to achieve the aim of ‘ease of doing business’ and bring about transparency in Government functioning to help the corporate sector to meet the country’s development goals and also attract investment from foreign corporates for the last four years, the Government now appears to have turned its attention on addressing the problems afflicting the farm and rural sector where nearly 70 pc population is dependent on agriculture and in spite of the prosperity that the urban sector has achieved over the last more than two decades, the rural sector and agriculture have not experienced the benefits of economic growth. Hence it was necessary to pay special attention to the problem areas in agriculture and rural sector.

Mr. Jaitley’s announcement of 50 pc more Minimum Support Price (MSP) than cost of production for agriculture produce, creating a network of marketing hubs, Kisan Credit Cards for fisheries and animal husbandry and raised allocation of Rs. 11 lakh crore, besides other steps, are pointer to the Government’s renewed focus on the rural and agriculture sector. Through the same initiative the MSME sector too would get a booster dose.

While Mr. Jaitley has tried to give some relief to the salaried class by allowing standard deduction for transport and medical reimbursement to the tune of Rs. 40000, senior citizens too would be happy that their interest income upto Rs. 50000 would be tax-free, up from a meager Rs. 10000. That will be a big relief for retired senior citizens in a regime where interest rates on savings bank account and fixed deposits have touched rock bottom.

With several States going to polls this year, and the Lok Sabha elections looming large, Mr. Jaitley could not have been expected to burden the people with new tax proposals. However, he has sought to tax the income from mutual funds and equity market earnings, an untapped source hitherto, seeking newer areas to expand the tax base and take greater recourse to disinvestment.

There is also a pronounced stress on creating infrastructure for new manufacturers in the budget. If properly implemented, the step will help in opening up of job opportunities in all sectors. What the Government now needs to focus is on an honest and systematic process to bring all these steps into operation. To bring all the proposed plans into fruition the Government will of course be stressed in raising revenues.