As TN CM soft-pedals Budget criticism, critics call it an ‘attack on people’

The DMK points out that important demands such as the opening of AIIMS in Tamil Nadu and further development of the metro rail have not been addressed.
As TN CM soft-pedals Budget criticism, critics call it an ‘attack on people’
As TN CM soft-pedals Budget criticism, critics call it an ‘attack on people’

Shortly after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley made his Budget speech, partly in Hindi - a point of contention in itself, Tamil Nadu parties began to make their displeasure clear.

While he may have begun by claiming that the Union budget was 'fairly balanced and growth oriented', even Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami could do little to curb the disappointment that creeped into the rest of his statement regarding financial allocations made by Budget 2018 for Tamil Nadu.

The sugar-coated statement read, "The Union budget has reduced the rate of corporate tax to 25 percent to companies with turnover of less than Rs. 250 crores. This will benefit the micro, small and medium enterprises. However, the expectations of MS&ME are far greater and they need to be supported more, as they are the significant contributors to new employment generation." 

In addition to this, the CM questioned why salaried individuals continue to remain burdened, "While we welcome the standard deduction of Rs. 40,000 announced in the budget speech, we feel that this falls short of the expectations of the public." 

The state government further pointed out that pensions were not increased as requested, and the decrease in allocation of funds for important schemes could have been avoided. It further criticised the Centre for reduced allocation of funds for post-matric scholarships. 

The most direct comparison and hint at electoral politics however comes when the Chief Minister says, "The Government of India has given special focus on expanding the capacity of the suburban train systems in Mumbai and Bengaluru. Chennai is expanding faster and needs strengthening of its suburban train system. This has been left out in the budget. I hope the Union Government will also improve the suburban train system in Chennai."

When a government widely accused of being under the Centre's thumb is this critical of the Union budget, it comes as no surprise that the opposition is livid. 

The DMK describes the budget as a damp squib and points out that important demands such as the opening of AIIMS in Tamil Nadu and further development of the metro rail have not been addressed. 

'Attack on the people'

"This budget is lacklustre and does not address certain key demands," says A Saravanan, spokesperson of the DMK. "It is a budget for corporates as made clear from tax concessions for them. Another demand was to bring petrol and diesel under GST. That hasn't been done either," he adds. 

Economist Venkatesh Athreya describes this budget as an 'attack on the people'. "The budget does not provide any stimulus to the economy. There has been a reduction in public investment over the last year and the government is doing nothing to bridge the gap. The benefit that were got when oil prices fell should have been transferred to the people but that has not been done either," he points out. 

VCK's Ravikumar echoes the sentiment. "The Government has increased the burden on the people. The cess has been increased from 3 percent to 4 percent. They have reduced tax for corporates doing business more than 150 crore. So, their intention is very clear," he says. 

The Tamil Nadu Congress meanwhile opined that the budget only had its eyes on the upcoming elections. 

Health insurance

In what is being labelled as a 'global first', Arun Jaitley announced the world's largest government funded healthcare programme on Thursday. The ambitious flagship programme - the National Health Protection Scheme - is supposed to cover 10 crore poor and vulnerable families or 40% of India's population. This is targeted at reaching approximately 50 crore beneficiaries. Under this programme, each family can claim medical reimbursements up to Rs 5 lakh every year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation.

The VCK however is not convinced by it.

"They have talked about introducing healthcare for the rural poor. It's not healthcare. It's health insurance. It's only going to help private medical hospitals. Why don't they put the money in the public healthcare system? They have announced 24 government medical colleges hospitals all over India. They just want to upgrade the existing district medical colleges. They don't want to invest more in this," says Ravikumar.

Talking about the plan to introduce one medical college per three parliamentary constituencies, he alleges, "It means they are going to encourage private medical colleges. They want to encourage private share in the private sector. They don't want to strengthen the public healthcare system."


Tamil Nadu, which faced a massive agrarian crisis in 2017, watched what Jaitley had to say about saving the farm sector with rapt attention. 

He said, "I am pleased to announce that as per pre-determined principle, Government has decided to keep MSP for the all unannounced crops of kharif at least at one and half times of their production cost. I am confident that this historic decision will prove an important step towards doubling the income of our farmers. More than 86% of our farmers are small and marginal. They are not always in a position to directly transact at APMCs and other wholesale markets.  We will develop and upgrade existing 22,000 rural haats into Gramin Agricultural Markets (GrAMs)."

Rs.2000 crore was allotted for developing and upgrading agricultural marketing infrastructure.

And while the Government has welcome the measures taken to help agriculture and allied sectors, economists and the opposition receive the news with scepticism. 

"If they are specifically mentioning that they are focusing on agriculture now, it shows that there was no concern about it earlier," says Saravanan. Referring to the government's promise to build all-weather roads, he says, "Why was this infrastructure not in place already? And what about farmers who are suffering right now? There was a demand for loan waiver. Why was there nothing mentioned about it?" he asks. 

The VCK meanwhile gives a more detailed rebuttal.

"They have once again claimed farmer's income will be doubled in 2022. They are pitching a new flag post, that's all. The proposal of 22,000 Gramin Agricultural Markets (GrAMs) is very childish. Even Tamil Nadu has more than that. This concept was introduced here. It's just another kind of vegetable market. Nobody directly buys from the farmer," says Ravikumar.

"They have not given any schemes on inputs or fertilisers. Only if they produce, they can go sell at the market. For a long time, they have been saying agriculture should form 4 percent of the GDP. But in this government, it is below 2 percent. No measures have been taken to improve that," he adds. 

Venkatesh Athreya meanwhile says that while the government could promise things, comments can only be made when it delivers. "As far as the agriculture sector is concerned, we will have to wait and watch to see if they really act or if these are just token statement," he says.

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