A promising Budget in the midst of a crisis

In the midst of a global pandemic, an economic downturn and a social crisis of epic magnitude, the first paperless budget (perhaps a reinstatement of the government’s commitment to the environment), is meant to pave the path towards recovery, in terms of health and finance, and reinvigorate human capital with inclusive development.

 At the onset, various tenets of sustainability (and the SDGs indirectly) were touched upon, including and not limited to – significant outlays towards good health and well-being, clean air, renewable energy, water and sanitation, waste management and reducing inequalities.

The launch of a new centrally sponsored scheme, PM AtmaNirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana with an outlay of Rs. 64,180 crores over 6 years, to develop capacities of primary, secondary and tertiary health care centres, strengthen existing institutions and create new ones, will be a welcome move for revitalizing a weakening health sector, and a critical push for strengthening health systems for preventive, curative and holistic well-being, which is definitely the need of the hour in the context of the pandemic. The launch of Mission Poshan 2.0 by merging the Supplementary Nutrition Programme and the Poshan Abhiyan will hopefully improve nutritional outcomes across the targeted districts, especially among young mothers who should ideally be the focal point of this mission. The budgetary expenditure towards health and well-being naturally increased by 137% from the previous financial year .

In other good news for the environment, an allocation of Rs 2,217 crores for 42 urban centres with a million-plus population to tackle the grave air-pollution crisis is a welcome move towards sustainability goals. A voluntary vehicle scrapping policy for phasing out old and unfit vehicles, thus encouraging fuel-efficient, environment friendly vehicles, thereby reducing vehicular pollution and oil import bill was also announced by the government.

In terms of clean energy access, the launch of the Hydrogen Energy Mission for generating hydrogen from clean sources and introducing a phased manufacturing plan for solar cells and panels will boost the renewable energy sector by developing domestic capabilities. In addition to this, the Rs 1000 crore allocation to SECI, Rs 1500 crore allocation to IREDA and the 3.06 lakh crore allocation for revamping and reforming DISCOMs (and giving consumers the choice to choose their DISCOM) will be a huge boost towards sustainable growth.

With the announcement of the recognition of gig and contractual workers being eligible for social security benefits, the labour sector will see some gains and women will be allowed to be employed for all jobs, including night shifts, a move towards gender parity. In another win for women, with a portal collecting data on migrant, gig and contractual labourers for dispersion of social benefits, women, who form a majority of this work-force will set to benefit with these social security programmes. With the expansion of the Ujjwala scheme (to 1 crore more beneficiaries), women, who face the highest burden of indoor air-pollution, will have access to clean cooking fuels. Funds to improve the lives of the female workforce in tea gardens is a welcome move as well.

While it can be overall categorized as a smart, pragmatic budget with several growth-oriented provisions with a thrust on infrastructure, job-creation, demand pull, significant outlays for agricultural reforms, affordable housing, MSMEs, start-ups and no hike in direct taxes, there were however certain misses. Digital literacy, a burgeoning need during the pandemic had no significant provisions, along with provisions for tele-medicines, to bridge the healthcare access divide, and with no recognition of mental health as an important priority. Plans for fast-tracking electric vehicle deployment and outlays for green bonds to finance renewable energy projects were also missing. However, despite these misses, the overall budgetary outlook is positive (as indicated by the response of financial markets), with the Finance Minister delivering despite significant constraints. Providing a foundation for Mission $5 trillion ahead, the budget has kept in mind the concerns of the common man, while provisioning for major.

Source: The Hindu