Expectations were high ahead of the Union Budget. Finance minister Arun Jaitley, however, left a lot to be desired. Still there are a couple of commendable initiatives in the social welfare sector, including the health care scheme for poor families. The government expects to include 10 crore poor families in the scheme. Each family is expected to be entitled to up to Rs 5 lakh under the scheme, touted by the minister as the world’s largest health care scheme.
This scheme is very positive at first glance but we are not clear about the implementation of the project. We have seen the plight of many previous health care schemes. The latest scheme could also end up among those unimplemented projects unless the government does its homework.
The other major announcement is the decision to establish ‘Eklavya’ schools along the lines of the Navodaya schools. The government said that it would start such a school in every block with more than 50 per cent of Scheduled Tribes population or at least 20,000 tribal people, by 2022.
The school education system in India is the venue of manifold experiments. Schools always get a mention in any Budget speech, including promises to introduce digital boards and improve infrastructure. The current promise cannot be considered anything more than this.
We have to bear in mind that successive government were not able to address the basic issues in the education sector.
Inflation has gone through the roof, fueled by an uncontrollable rise in the cost of petroleum products. Bus fares are sure to go up too. The people had been looking up to the Budget for any measure to rein in the price rise but they were disappointed.
The increase in import duty would help the ‘Make in India’ project.
This would put a brake on the tendency to import commodities indiscriminately. This would help in the production of more goods inside the country and increase job opportunities.
However, the decision to divest more shares will not help the public sector enterprises. Though the government is looking to divest Air India, it could expand the sale process to more PSUs in the coming years.
The decision to merge the major insurance companies is worth a mention. The government is clearly moving towards privatization of the sector.
The Budget was also lacking in women empowerment.
(The writer is a faculty member of the department of Economics, Baselius College, Kottayam, Kerala)