New Delhi, Feb 20: At a time when the nation is breaking its head over the fact that how could a person loot Rs 11,360 crore and leave the country without facing any resistance, former finance minister Yashwant Sinha decided to ruminate over Budget 2018-19 presented by incumbent FM Arun Jaitley in Parliament on February 1.
For the "breaking news" brigade--busy chasing billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi, the mastermind behind the Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud, Sinha's column titled--More manifesto, less budget--published by The Indian Express on Tuesday might look like little late.
However, the veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, who is always in conflict with his own party, these days, outlined the fact clearly why the recent Union Budget is more of a political exercise than fiscal.
At the onset of the column, Sinha admitted that he himself read the budget speech of Jaitley little late as he was away from the national capital. The former FM first criticised his successor for a speech written in "poor English" with "some grammatical errors".
"What good is a FM who does not apply his mind even to the language of the budget speech? Is it a surprise, therefore, that he did not apply his mind also to the various schemes in the budget, which he has left uncooked or half-cooked?" wrote Sinha.
Sinha added that Jaitley has squandered the glorious opportunity he had on account of the huge decline in petroleum crude prices immediately after the government assumed office in 2014.
"Now that petroleum crude prices have increased moderately, it has lost control of the fisc and the fiscal glide path projected earlier has gone for a toss.
"What is more disconcerting is the fact that the revenue deficit, which was projected as 1.9 per cent of the GDP in the budget estimates of 2017-18, is projected to go up to 2.6 per cent in the revised estimates. Even in the Budget Estimate (BE) of 2018-19, it is supposed to be 2.2 per cent of the GDP compared to the actual of 2.1 per cent in 2016-17. The Effective Revenue Deficit has gone up by a large margin of 80 basis points from 0.7 per cent in the BE to 1.5 per cent in the Revised Estimate (RE)," added the former FM.
Regarding tax, Sinha wrote that the incumbent FM expects to lose Rs 7,000 crore during FY 2018-19 on account of extending the corporate tax concession to more companies.
"Similarly, he expects to lose Rs 8,000 crore by extending the standard deduction of Rs 40,000 to the individual taxpayer."
The former FM also mentioned about the incentives given to the farming and health sectors in the budget.
"As has already been pointed out by various commentators, the two earth-shaking announcements in the budget, namely giving the farmer at least 50 per cent more than the cost of his produce and the National Health Protection Scheme, have not been funded in this budget.
"Someone once asked me 'what is the difference between an election manifesto and a budget?' My reply was simple, 'in an election manifesto, you are not required to give estimates of expenditure of the various schemes mentioned in the manifesto, in a budget, expenditure on every item has to be clearly spelt out.' But then, how does it matter if you believe in the 'Ease of Leaving'," he wrote.
Sinha ended with the note that "the Budget 2018-19 is thus more a manifesto for the 2019 elections than a budget for the next fiscal."