Assembly polls in four States find echo in Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget

The most obvious political aspect of the Union Budget were the allocations for highways projects in Kerala, Bengal, Assam, and for railway projects in Tamil Nadu

From Bengal inspired laal paad sari, to her quoting verses from Rabindranath Tagore and Thiruvalluvar’s works to allocations, the influence of the four polls going states of West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam was obvious on Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Union Budget, but the year long battle with COVID-19 and even before that, political-economy lessons from the Maharashtra polls were also writ large.

The most obvious political aspect of the Union budget were of course the allocations announced for these states — 1,100 km of national highways in Kerala at an imvestment of ₹65,000 crores, including 600 km section of the Mumbai-Kanyakumari corridor, a ₹25,000 crore worth of highway works in West Bengal including the upgradation of the Kolkata Siliguri road, more than 1300 km of national highways to be built in Assam, new phases of the Chennai metro at the cost of ₹63,246 crores, a seaweed park, a major fishing harbour to be developed in Chennai and national highway programmes to the tune of ₹1.03 lakh crores.

A welfare fund of ₹1000 crores is also to be set up for tea estate workers in Assam and West Bengal. All these states will go to polls in the next couple of months.

Maharashtra and PMC depositors

As a fall out of the Maharashtra elections and the sight of cheated depositors of the PMC Bank in the state crowding into the BJP’s Mumbai office trying to get an audience with finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the government approved an increase in the deposit insurance cover from ₹1 lakh to ₹5 lakh and promised that it would be moving amendments in relevant laws to streamline the provision so that depositors can get easy and time bound access to their savings to the extent of the deposit insurance.

Farmers and MSP

Ms Sitharaman spent considerable time elaborating on the enhanced amounts of Minimum Support Price (MSP) paid out by the government over the years, an obvious referrence to the weeks long agitation by farmers unions on the outskirts of Delhi. Union have, for months been demanding the repeal of three laws to do with agriculture that will make it easier for private traders to bypass Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) run mandis or market places in order to buy agricultural produce as well as removed stock limits on certain commondities under the Essesntial Commodities Act. Ms Sitharaman also said that 1000 more mandis would be incorporated into the E-NAM market place, in a bid to demonstrate that the government had neither dismantled the MSP nor the mandi system.

COVID19 aftermath

The budget math did reflect the economic impact of the year of the pandemic with budget deficit, for the first time in years, was pegged at 9.5% for the year 2020-21, and is said to be 6.5% for the coming financial year. The allocation for health has thus been hiked by 140% in this budget and ₹35,000 crore announced for acquiring COVID19 vaccine shots to be distribute through the public health system.

The lessons from the distress of migrants across India under one of the harshest lockdwons were also evident- the government would be pushing ahead with promoting “One Nation-One ration card” for migrant workers to access food anywhere in the country. A portal for gig and migrant workers will also be set up.

The tough year of the pandemic and the busy electoral calendar for this year have been reflected within the year’s Union budget.

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