Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre has completed more than one month in its office and n0w the nation is desperately waiting for its economic thought in the form of budget. After the national economy witnessed a major fundamental change in 1991, the successive governments have made traditions to reflect their policies and ideologies while presenting budget. The budget speech not only presents the agenda of any government for the next one year but also gives a glimpse of several policy decisions which eventually become the very basis of governance. It’s mainly due to this very reason, the budget proceedings are keenly observed by common man, industrialists, businessmen and experts of diverse fields. Everyone wants to know what changes the government is going to bring and what effect it will have on them. The budget of Modi-led government also assumes significance mainly since it’s would be first time in 30 years when that a ruling dispensation is going to present general budget without being under the compulsion of coalition partners. The ruling dispensation is led by such an individual whose administrative acumen is acknowledged all-around. Modi government, which came into power on poll planks of bringing reforms, completed its first one month in office in a relatively quiet manner. Though this silence was questioned but it seems that Modi along with his Cabinet colleagues is busy in strategizing some of the key policies from a whole new perspective. When Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will present his maiden budget, it’s expected that it will give a glimpse of some finer points of governance woven in the past one and half months ever since the NDA government took charge at the Centre.  

As an Opposition, the Congress has already started attacking Modi government. The Congress leaders argue that that Modi government has no new policy and it depends mainly on the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s policies. In such a scenario, everybody like Congress leaders would like to see whether a proper strategy for pulling country out of current economy mess is incorporated in the first budget. It needs to be kept in mind that the Prime Minister continues to mention his future course of action in the form of administering bitter pills. Whatever may be the outcome of the budget, it’s clear that there is a need for overhaul in policies framed during UPA’s tenure. The countrymen elected Modi to bring this change and that’s why the onus lies on him to move ahead with it. There are several issues which were raised by the BJP when the party was in Opposition. Now it’s time for Modi to work on them. The major challenges being faced by Modi government as of now are corruption, unemployment, poor health facilities and education, snail pace industrialization and poor state of agriculture sector. Town planning is also a quite challenging task as the nation is going to depend on the income generated from cities in the time to come. Leaving aside the problem of corruption, most of the other crises are a result of wrong policies of the Congress-led UPA government. In order to keep its vote-bank intact, the Congress continued to play around the social agenda and this inflicted a severe loss on the economy. It’s the same agenda which is advocated by the Left parties. A country like India can’t move ahead on the basis of such social agenda which has kept the poor and illiterate in their same state. It’s mainly the result of socialist-Marxist mindset which has almost erased the spirit of competition from the country. Whenever a society gets entrapped in such a mindset, it results in stalling the process of development.

As soon as Modi took over the reins of government, he infused a new lease of life in the bureaucrats and inspired them to function in a fearless manner. This pep talk should have a far-fetched effect and at the same time. The Centre and the state governments should take some steps for making bureaucracy accountable and responsible. This can be brought into effect only when the government employees will view their work as a contribution towards the nation. When a healthy sense of competition will exist between the government employees, their productivity as well as quality of work will improve. The government will have to take such a step so that the competent employees are encouraged and corrupt ones are sidelined from the mainstream. If the government machineries catch the rust of corruption and inaction, it won’t be possible to properly implement the government policies. The same reason can be cited in the context of private sectors as well. If the government wants to expedite the economy, it should provide more stress on the working efficiency. And to do this, labour reforms should be implemented without any delay.

From financial perspective, the biggest challenge before the nation is the ever-increasing debt. The previous government’s inclination towards subsidies has corroded away the national economy. The new government should come up with such a measure that it gets other avenues of earning apart from taxes. And in order to that, the policy of privatizing public sector undertakings won’t be enough. The Central, as well as state governments often has stakes over a major part of the land and if the value of this land is estimated, would run into billions of rupees but till now, no attempt have been made to know the market value of those lands. In several cities, there are a number of government-owned lands which are not being brought into proper application. If these lands are auctioned at market rate, the government will not earn revenue but also fulfills residential and commercial needs of the cities concerned. It would be better if the government can gather information regarding such lands in the cities so that those can be utilized properly. Apart from lands for railways, defence, aviation, ports and other public sector undertakings, there are several lands which are situated within towns and cities. Among these, there are several institutions which can be easily shifted to out of town. Of course, there should be no problem in procuring money from these lands for the welfare of the nation. May be, the present political environment is not that feasible for this especially taking this point of view into consideration that the subject of land deals has been cropping up political controversy. But in order to deal with the economic challenges in a proper manner, some new steps will have to be taken. And by taking such a step, the option of disinvestment in public enterprises will open up and lead to generation of more income.  

As a Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley’s first budget will be compared to that of Manmohan Singh way back in 1991, which laid a concrete foundation of economic reforms for the first time in Independent India. That time too, the nation’s economic condition was in a deteriorating state and today, the situation is not that different. Then, Manmohan Singh was able to pull the nation out of economic crisis by taking bold steps. Those reforms gave world-wide recognition to Manmohan Singh. It remains to be seen if Arun Jaitley can initiate a new era of reforms and carve a niche for him down the annals of history, something, which was done by Manmohan Singh almost two decades back.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on July 6, 2014 translated by the English editorial. The author is the Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)