State budget: missing big picture

Kumaraswamy reads out the budget speech.

With just three months to go for Lok Sabha polls, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s first full-year budget was, as expected, an election budget. While plans and allocations for Bengaluru and farmers grabbed the headlines, there were a sprinkling of welfare measures and ‘gifts’, too, addressing sections ranging from auto and taxi drivers to various religious organisations. One must worry if these welfare measures are too narrowly directed.

To be sure, there are some ‘return to the basics’ ideas in the budget that should prove good in the long run. The proposed Rs 20-crore ‘Constitution Museum’ is one such, direly needed to remind citizens of the spirit of the Constitution at a time when it is under grave threat. The return to investing in public health and schooling, although overall allocations to these sectors leave much to be desired, are good, too. The budget proposes 1,000 K-12 Karnataka Public Schools at hobli headquarters level over the next four years. Cancer detection and treatment centres in the districts and two new hospitals/extensions in Bengaluru are welcome at a time when the incidence of cancer is rising. Kumaraswamy has sought to address the needs of his core voter base – farmers – through several schemes, from earmarking Rs 12,650 crore for a first tranche of loan waivers to what looks like regionally-appropriate measures for vegetable and fruit growers, fishermen, poultry and animal husbandry, etc. These will all bring relief to farmers at a time when they are reeling under drought conditions in 150 taluks in the state.    

Yet, the big worry is the big picture of the budget. And Bengaluru looms large in that picture, not in terms of allocation – it gets about Rs 8,000 crore – but in the ideas that animate it. Kumaraswamy has spoken of making Bengaluru a “global city”, but the essentials are missing – addressing garbage, dying lakes, etc. There is a vision of more of everything – roads, footpaths, water, integrated transport, more big projects – but without addressing the underlying problems. A Rs 50 crore mobility plan is to be evolved, but even before that Rs 1,000 crore has been earmarked for the controversial elevated corridor project. It’s a case of putting the cart before the horse. There is a plan to bring more water to Bengaluru from distant sources, but the city’s thirst cannot be quenched without widespread rainwater harvesting efforts and reviving lakes and tanks. Footpaths will get a Rs 50 crore makeover, but without the city first addressing the problem of encroachment. In the event, the budget for Bengaluru is a case of pouring good money after bad. As it has been, budget after budget. 

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State budget: missing big picture

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