Lacking focus

Chief minister Siddaramaiah, who also holds finance portfolio, was not expected to do any miracles with an awkward mid-term budget for the next eight months after the Congress government was voted to power in May, but it has largely been a disappointing exercise, coming from someone presenting his eighth budget.

He has devoted several paragraphs to criticise the previous BJP government for allegedly taking the state towards financial ‘doom’, but instead of taking remedial measures, he himself has announced many populist schemes which will drain the exchequer. The distribution of 30 kg of rice at Re 1 per kg to 93 lakh BPL families is of course in fulfillment of a promise made by the Congress party in the election manifesto, and it is a welcome measure as Karnataka still ranks high among states with large number of poor people. But there is no clear indication of how much the scheme will cost and how the state is going to fund it in the long run. The major source of additional revenue is expected to come from a steep hike in excise duty by 16 to 40 per cent across all 17 slabs, and the stamps and registration following the revision of the guideline market value for properties.

It is evident that the Congress government has shifted its focus to the upcoming Lok Sabha elections by announcing a plethora of concessions to farmers and those belonging to SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities. Some opposition leaders have uncharitably called it an ‘Ahinda budget,’ referring to Siddaramaiah’s core support group, but many of the measures aimed at helping the backward class students with scholarships and good hostels are indeed laudable. Siddaramaiah was among the Opposition leaders who criticised the previous BJP government for indiscriminately doling out money to mutts and other religious institutions, but his government too has earmarked Rs 75 crore for unspecified religious bodies.

The chief minister has talked about bringing back the old glory in the information technology sector to Bangalore city and increasing the export earning from
Rs 1.35 lakh crore to Rs 4 lakh crore by 2020, but there is no clear roadmap for achieving it. He has mentioned allotment of Rs 6,540 crore for infrastructure development in Bangalore, which needs to be spent wisely on essential projects which will ease the traffic congestion in the city. A provision of Rs 100 crore for skywalks is an example of wasteful expenditure as most of the existing ones have proved to be ill-conceived and lying waste. A new government’s maiden budget is expected to contain some innovative ideas, but this one is sorely lacking in them.

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