Union Budget 2013-14: What is there for us?
Source: Hueiyen News Service / Prof E Bijoykumar Singh

Imphal, February 28 2013: When P.C.Chidambaram presented the Union Budget, 2013-14, his 8th budget today, there were too many expectations.

But Chidambaram could not have satisfied everybody.

The Economic survey asked for pressing the accelerator on reforms, salaried class wanted a rise in tax exemption limit, industrialists wanted more incentives in the form of concessions, farmers wanted more loans, the youth wanted more jobs, politicians wanted to please the electorate well in time for the 2014. Industrialists feel that higher tax rates will discourage entrepreneurship, create a negative environment, depress demand and create incentives for tax evasion.

In fact, anyone who could express himself or herself had some wish.

Satisfying everyone was indeed a big challenge given the looming global slowdown despite the usual pep talk that we shall overcome.

We are where we are despite everything, not because of what we have done.

The huge fiscal deficit, lower savings and investments and tight monetary policy left little manoeuvring space for PC than call for rationalisation of expenditure.

The budget had no change in slabs and tax rates for personal and corporate income.

It proposes a surcharge of 10% on rich taxpayers with annual income of more than Rs 1 cr.

There is also a similar surcharge on corporate income of more than Rs 10 cr.

The education cess of 3% remains.

The use of Both surcharge and cess might have been prompted by the fact that these have the advantage of not having to share with the state as in the case of many other taxes levied by the centre.

There is a Plan to introduce inflation indexed bonds to protect the saving of the public.

The erosion of the value of such assets during times of high inflation has been an important factor behind the low use of such assets.

There is an allocation of Rs 1000 crore for India's first women's bank which will serve and employ women.

This is another targeted intervention to ensure better financial inclusion of females.

Home loan takers in 2013-14 upto Rs 25 lakh will get an additional deduction of Rs 1 lakh.

A Nirbhaya fund of Rs 1000 crore has been earmarked to empower women and provide safety.

This fund will be a monument to the young woman who aroused the conscience of the nation last December.

SUVs and luxury vehicles are becoming costlier.

The import duty on set top boxes is raised from 5 to 10% to protect domestic producers.

We have to install these add-ons to move with technology.

The Duty on mobiles costing above Rs 2000 has been raised from 1% to 6%.That will make mobile handsets costlier.

A service tax has been imposed on AC restaurants.

Duty free limit on gold import is raised to Rs 50000 for males and Rs 1 lakh for females.

Ministry of Rural Development gets Rs 80194 with Rs 33000 crore for MGNREGA.

MGNREGA is considered the flag ship of the UPA II Government.

Despite everything, MGNREGA, Food Security Act and SSA can help in realising the UPA-III dream.

Majority of our voters do not care for the niceties of growth, foreign exchange reserve and of course liberalisation.

In the early 80s, the ruling party in Delhi lost the election because onions disappeared from the market and no argument was as convincing as this regarding the quality of governance.

There is an allocation of Rs 14875 crore for JNNURM.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) gets Rs 27250 crore.

Rastriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) gets Rs 3983 crore.

There is Rs 24500 crore to ST sub plan.

The Rastriya Swasthya BimaYojana now will cover rickshaw pullers, auto and taxi drivers and sanitation workers.

The allocation for Agriculture is Rs 27049 crore with agricultural credit rising to Rs 700000 crore from Rs 575000 crore last year.

Rs 10000 crore is earmarked for Food Security Bill.

Rs 97134 crore are allocated for women related programmes.

I see two specific pronouncements of high significance for the north east.

Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati is one of the four institutions with a grant of Rs 100 crore each.

This infusion of fund will enable the fledgling centre to rise at par with other institutes within a short time.

In what is considered as a first decisive step for Look East Policy (LEP), Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram in his Budget has proposed to link North east India to Myanmar.

The Minister said, "Multilateral Development Banks are keen to assist in efforts to promote regional connectivity.

Combining the 'Look East' policy and the interests of the North Eastern States, I propose to seek the assistance of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to build roads in the North Eastern States and connect them to Myanmar" .

A few years back, there was a World Bank Survey of roads in Manipur and I do not know what happened to its recommendations.

Till now economists of this region have been dismayed at the emptiness of the policy.

We were further dismayed by the progress of China in securing the coastal regions of Myanmar for its landlocked Yunnan which has failed to grow as fast as the coastal regions .What does LEP have to do with this region if the policy is sought to be pursued with better connectivity of the coastal regions, to be more specific with the development of Chennai, Vizag and Kolkata? .

IndoľASEAN trade has grown but the trade based on land routes which cater to the NER has not grown.

What is happening at Moreh? While the reach and influence of Moreh have multiplied, the official trade has floundered due to the poor quality of connectivity- physical and institutional.

As Prof Atul Sarma would argue, the main reason behind the poor level of utilisation of natural resources in this region has been the shortage of fund particularly in the area of infrastructure.

This articulation comes at a time when ASEAN is trying to connect the NER through the land route.

The talk is no longer Imphal to Mandalay.

It is Imphal to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Kunming in China.

Personally I have come to believe that not much can be expected for this region in the Union Budget in a time like this.

What is more important is what we do ourselves in our budgets which will be coming up shortly.

We are not as constrained as the Centre in terms of policy space.

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