Union Budget 2016 – 17 presented by the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is nothing but a grand exercise in rhetoric totally devoid of anything substantial that provides relief to the common people and workers. The Finance Minister sought to camouflage his government’s drive to provide further benefits to the corporate sector by resorting to high sounding words. Given the continuing global economic volatility and vulnerability in the capitalist system, the figures of GDP, Current Account Deficit and fiscal deficit are subject to many internal and external factors and have to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Instead of proposing effective measures to address the burning issue of price rise, the Finance Minister pats himself on the back claiming that inflation has come down even when the daily experience of the people is otherwise. Attempts to address unemployment by opening of skill development centres, when hundreds of thousands of our educated and skilled youth do not find suitable and decent jobs do not make any sense. While the ban on recruitment in government continues and thousands of jobs are being lost across many industries, in the Finance Minster ridiculously hopes of generating employment by paying the employers’ share of provident fund for three years.
The Union Budget sounds the death knell for the public sector, proposing disposal of assets of public sector undertakings including land, in addition to disinvestment of shares. The name of the Department of Disinvestment is being deceptively changed to Department of Investment and Public Asset Management. The upstream oil sector has been further widened for private sector, both domestic and foreign. Huge concessions have been made to prospective private oil corporates. Public sector general insurance will be disinvested. 100% FDI is proposed in marketing food products produced in India.
The Motor Vehicle Act is going to be amended opening up passenger transport to private parties resulting in the death of the state public road transport corporations. The Health Protection scheme announced in the Budget only indicates that the government is withdrawing itself from its responsibility of providing universal health coverage and moving towards health insurance that would mainly benefit the insurance companies.
While the announcement to speed up rural electrification is laudable, the fact is that today around 1 lakh mega watt power generation capacity is lying idle due to the high cost of electricity. Merely providing electric connections is not going to help unless electricity tariffs are brought down and the purchasing capacity of people is increased.
Rather than taking strong action to recover the alarming amounts of defaults by big corporate houses to public sector banks, the government has provided for recapitalisation of public sector banks to brush up their balance sheets, thus setting the defaulters go scot - free.
While the Finance Minister talked of reduction in corporate taxes there is no enhancement of income tax slabs adversely affecting the lakhs of central and state government and public sector employees. On the other hand, workers’ life long savings in Provident Fund are being taxed.
The revenue loss due to reduction in direct taxes is to the tune of Rs 1060 crores while an additional burden of Rs 20670 crores has been imposed on common people through indirect taxes.
The allocation to agriculture and farmer welfare is too meagre to address the serious agrarian crisis that has seen an increase in farmer suicides. It amounts to just eye wash.
The government has again neglected the unorganised workers and the scheme workers in this Budget. Despite the consistent demand of the united trade union movement to constitute national fund for providing social security benefits for the unorganised workers and to recognise the lakhs of anganwadi employees, ASHAs, midday meal workers, NCLP staff and other sections of scheme workers as workers and provide them minimum wages and social security benefits, this Budget totally ignores these demands. While none of the points raised by the central trade unions in the pre budget meeting have been addressed, the government generously accepted the demands of the employers. The Budget does away with the mandatory weekly holidays in shops and other commercial establishments thus denying the tens of lakhs of shop employees of their holidays and increasing their working hours.
On the whole this Union Budget once again proves the commitment of this BJP led government to the neoliberal agenda and its eagerness to satisfy its corporate and big business bosses at the cost of the workers and common people.