The Budget is a Political Economic document and the presentation of it is the articulation of the political economic approach being adopted by the government to serve the cause of Welfare of the people…But the presentation of the Budget had been converted into a Political Event lock, stock and barrel, says Professor Amar Yumnam.
By Amar Yumnam
I started learning Economics in 1971 at the Imphal College and was in there till my completion of the Bachelor’s programme in early 1975. One of the most impressive and permanently impactful things I saw and overheard was the teachers discussing the Budget of the year; this was the height of responsible application of knowledge for a shared social transformation for the future. This was accompanied by reading at home the Manipuri dailies, particularly the Ngasi and the Khollao. I must admit that these were my first lessons in empirical studies. Though there were occasional comments earlier, I started reading and commenting regularly on the Union and the State Budget in 1980.
In any of my commentaries so far, I never felt the necessity of explaining at least a little of what a Budget is like. A Budget in a democracy is a very important document spelling out (a) how the prevailing socio-politico-economic scenario is being perceived by the government of the day; (b) how the government plans to address any weaknesses, strengthen the capacity and deliver a better socio-economic scenario at the end of the day; (c) how government plans to take care of the global political-economic challenges during the following period of the Budget; and (d) all these should have a common leading framework such that there are no contradictions in various functioning of the government – a la internal consistency. In the case of the State Budget, the point on global political economy has so far little relevance in the case of States like Manipur. But I must hasten to add that a State Budget is a very important document spelling out the provincial government’s perspective and strategy on Centre-State Fiscal Relations.
In the context of the contemporary scenario, the Manipur Budget, besides addressing the common features of a Budget in a Democracy, should have an adequate application of mind to address the emerging international political economic issues consequent upon happenings in neighbouring countries; at least there should be an initiation for a debate on this dimension as the unfolding events demand attention and policy responses.
A Speech accompanying a Budget gives a picture of the thinking process of the government and considered application of mind on what and how a State’s Budget should be like. However, reading the Speech relating to the 2023-24 Budget of Manipur I must confess that I have never felt the kind of disappointment I feel this time.
The first impression one immediately feels revealed by the Speech is the praise of the Prime Minister of the country. Well, praising the Honourable PM is fine and there could be many occasions to do so. But indulging in Politics of praising the PM while presenting the Budget is really unfortunate. The Budget is a Political Economic document and the presentation of it is the articulation of the political economic approach being adopted by the government to serve the cause of Welfare of the people and conduct the administration with Justice; the financial implications of a budget is always there but these are addressed as economic problems to systematically intervene. But the presentation of the Budget had been converted into a Political Event lock, stock and barrel. I would like to emphasise that Political Economic approach is very different from Political preoccupation.
The second feeling one immediately experiences while going through the Budget Speech is the mentioning of International Political Economic aspect relevant on a macro aspect of the country. The problem here is that the provincial implication of the mentioned organisation is nowhere articulated. Still further, if there is inclination of touching upon international political economic issues, the provincial peculiarities could have been articulated.
On both the occasions – praising the PM and mentioning the international political economic dimension, the Speech displays a sharp political – yes political – statement. But as emphasised earlier, a Budget can never be and should never be a Political Document. It necessarily has to be a Political Economic Document – Political Economic because (i) the welfare implications of the financial flows would be spelt out; (ii) the required policies would be proposed; and (iii) the needed mechanisms and frameworks would be elaborated. But these are marked by absence in the Budget Speech.
The third peculiarity of the Speech is the elaborate mentioning of the Union Budget objectives: ” The Union Budget for 2023-24 had set out seven priorities: (i) Inclusive Development, (ii) Reaching the last mile, (iii) Infrastructure and Investment, (iv) Unleashing the potential, (v) Green Growth, (vi) Youth Power, (vii) Financial Sector.” This elaborate reference to the Union Budget naturally arouses interest as to why such a massive mentioning. In the following paragraph, the Speech talks of “As partners in the growth and development story of our great nation, Manipur has an important role to play, especially with our access to South-East and East Asia.” How sweet, but here ends the story. There is no articulation of any understanding of the relational dynamics with the South East and East Asian countries.
Since there are references aplenty on the Union Budget and international political economic aspects at the larger context, I was definitely searching for the framework of functioning being envisaged by the Government and the articulation of that in the Budget Speech. Unfortunately, there is no embracing framework for the various mentions and proposals in the Budget.
Well, let us pretend that these holistic issues are unimportant. Let me now put some questions sectoral wise. Let us take Education. Any discussion on Education cannot and should not be conducted as if there have been no significant social occurrences. Let me just put one question from the angle of Justice. The Pandemic has definitely caused a heavy pressure on the poorer sections of the population to sustain the education of their children; the school drop-out phenomenon of poor families has been real. The long term social cost of this would be heavy. What is the Social Approach being used in the Budget. There is none I can see. This is seen in the case of other sectors too.
Let us take the case of the Health Sector as a second case. Put simply, some of the critical issues confronting this sector today are the meaningful access to health facilities and the non-availability of certain critical drugs. A budget presented today should inevitably reflect the awareness and the approach the government is planning to address the problems.
The point I am raising relates mainly to what is the understanding of a Budget in a Democracy. A Budget is not a Political Document and the presentation in the Legislature indicates that it is a national happening, not a political happening. I would encourage the Government to go for a relook and opt for an appropriate re-presentation of the Budget to enhance Welfare and Justice in a society very adversely affected by recent happenings and thus endeavour to collectively go ahead to the future with clear social visions. The need of an encompassing framework of a Budget is to enhance the coordinated functioning of the various wings of the Government for a common social cause, and to ensure the absence of a uncoordinated functioning by the various wings.
The absence of a General Framework and elaborate mentioning of the Union Budget would serve as a Good Compliance Report. For Manipur, please wait.
(Amar Yumnam is Visiting Professor, CESS, Hyderabad.)