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Budget: What the common man wants

June 29, 2009 14:57 IST

Budget: What the common man wants

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Indrani Roy Mitra in Kolkata

The Union Budget just a week away. While economists and analysts are busy making predictions about the biggest annual financial event in the country, common people are no less interested either.

This year's Budget is of special significance as India reels under the impact of a global recession. However, with a new, stable government at the helm, there is also a sense of optimism.

While salaried people want the new Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's Budget to introduce more tax cuts, those in business want a revision in the value added tax norms.

How important is Budget to the masses? What is their interpretation? What are people's opinions about the new finance minister? Will Mukherjee turn in a Dream Budget, like his predecessor P Chidambaram did some years ago?

We went around asking some people from various strata of life about their understanding of the Budget, their perceptions, concerns and expectations. Read on. . .


Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi (L-R), Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
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'Budget is a ministerial affair'

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Jawhar Sheikh
Vegetable vendor

Budget, to me, is a ministerial affair. It has very little significance in the lives of people like me who have to toil hard round-the-clock to make both ends meet.

At a measly income of Rs 1,500 a month, I have to feed a family of four. For me, discussing the Budget is a luxury of the mind.

In our country, everything is election-oriented. Hence during the last interim Budget, the government had taken some steps for the poor.

But with polls being over, I don't think the present United Progressive Alliance government will offer any more sops for the poor.

We live in a very strange economy which ensures that the rich get richer and the poor poorer. And government statistics and figures do not always reflect the reality.

For instance, as it stands now, inflation has declined considerably but has it brought down the prices of essential commodities? No!

These statistics, therefore, are good enough to fill the books of accounts. They do not have any significance in our lives.

As a Bengali, I do expect a lot from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. I hope he does something for this state (West Bengal). As we all know, the infrastructure in the State is in a shambles and so is the healthcare network. He needs to lay special emphasis on these two sectors in the impending Budget.

But then he is a minister guided by national policies and bureaucratic diktats. He will go by the rules of the ruling party.

As far as my trade is concerned, I would request the finance minister to form a policy whereby we can have uniform wholesale price for vegetables across India. This will not only end unfair competition but will also clip the wings of corrupt middlemen.

I would also like to request Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee to introduce uniform freight for goods carried in local trains so that we can have the same selling price for vegetables all over the state of West Bengal.


Image: Jawhar Sheikh, vegetable vendor
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Budget? Sorry, it has no significance for me'

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Joydev Sarkar
Taxi driver

Union Budget? What's that? I do overhear passengers discussing it at times. But what it stands for -- I have no clue.

If you ask me about my family Budget, I can tell you about the constraints that I face, hardships that I and my family of four have to deal with everyday.

With a meagre income of Rs 3,500 a month, each day is a day of struggle for us. Thank God, we live in one of the cheapest cities in India.

Had we lived in Delhi or Mumbai, we would have just starved to death.

Though we live in a democracy, I don't have any faith in the electoral process, which is why I did not vote during the Lok Sabha election.

I don't believe in any political outfit. Whether the Left Front or the Trinamool is at the helm, it does not matter to me at all.

All the parties are equally corrupt. They are all out to destroy this country. No one has any intent of improving the state of the poor.

When people talk of 'winds of change gripping Bengal', it makes me laugh. For, I can't see any change whatsoever. My life has been quite the same as it used to be 15 years back.

No government or its so-called Budget could improve my financial condition. Therefore, why should I waste my precious time discussing such nonsense?


Image: Joydev Sarkar, taxi driver
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Extend the tax holiday under STPI, please'

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Hiranmoy K Sarkar
Senior consultant, TCS

I always take keen interest in the Union Budget and this year too, it will not be an exception.

I feel that as the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee has an advantage over his predecessor P Chidambaram.

For, the new UPA government stands on a stronger base this time and they don't need to mollycoddle any troublesome ally like the Left Front.

Therefore, we expect some bold and strong steps from Mukherjee.

As an information technology person, I would request the finance minister to extend the tax holiday under the Software Technology Parks of India scheme, which is due to expire by March 2010.

For, STPI scheme's expiry would hit the IT companies' income. As it is, India's IT sector is reeling under a meltdown and a reduction of tax benefits would add to its woes.

A veteran politician that Mukherjee is, we also expect him to strike some great agreements with US President Barack Obama so that that the outsourcing business of India does not get hit by Obama's recent economic stand.

Mukherjee has served as external affairs minister for years and his political rapport with the US as well as other countries, I am sure, would come in handy in this context.

We also expect the new finance minister to take some concrete steps in revamping the country's e-governance and make more use of the bench resource.

As far as taxation is concerned, I feel it is tilted against the lower income group. The entire system has a lot of loopholes so that those in the higher income bracket easily get away paying much less tax.

Though the present government has managed to bring down inflation considerably, it has not been able to control rising commodity prices. As a result, the common people cannot enjoy the benefit of a falling inflation.

Speaking about the state of West Bengal, its infrastructure and health network are in an awful condition. Things will not improve here but for central government intervention.

Same is true for the State's power sector. This year's Budget must put stress on alternative sources of energy. It must make special provisions for generating solar energy, bio-fuel, etc.

The government must lay down policies that will encourage people to use more battery-operated vehicles. 


Image: Hiranmoy K Sarkar, senior consultant, TCS
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Please grant West Bengal the kiss of life'

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Anuradha Goswami
Teacher, South Point High School, Kolkata

I am really optimistic about this year's Budget. After many years, we have got Pranab Mukherjee as the finance minister. I am sure he won't let us down.

First and foremost, I would expect this year's Budget to lay special emphasis on building permanent embankments for the Sunderbans.

The government should take a lesson from the devastation caused by the Cyclone Aila and must take steps to improve the living condition of Sunderbans' inhabitants.

The government does not need to give any more tax sops, especially to women. I feel the government has done enough in that area.

I read somewhere that Congress President Sonia Gandhi recently talked about having a uniform educational system across India. I sincerely believe that such a policy will be a blessing for us all. Educational will then be a great leveller.

I expect this year's Budget to focus on health, infrastructure, administration and education. Be it India or West Bengal, these four sectors need special attention.

I also expect the Centre to introduce laws that would tighten the noose around the neck of the ruling power in West Bengal. At present, anarchy reigns and there is no transparency anywhere.

The Member of Parliament funds meant for the State's welfare return to the Centre unutilised while the State machinery's lacunae throw any intent for good work out of the window.

It's a sad situation here and things will worsen further but for the Centre's intervention.

This year's Budget should, therefore, make special provisions for improving the state of West Bengal.

Just as the government helps sick industries' survival, so also the government must resuscitate West Bengal.

It must sanction funds to carry out probes which, I am sure, will unearth some shocking facts. With Mamata Banerjee and Pranab Mukherjee holding such important portfolios now, I do expect the Centre to cast a sympathetic glance on Bengal.


Image: Anuradha Goswami, Teacher, South Point High School, Kolkata
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'More educational loans at cheaper rates, please'

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Meghatiti Banerjee
Student

My mother draws up a budget every month on the basis of what she runs the house.

Taking the cue from my mom, Union Budget, to me, means the Centre's way of telling the people how it plans to run the country for the entire financial year.

To be honest, I don't take too much interest in Budget or any other economic/political event for that matter.

But I am aware of the fact that we now have Pranab Mukherjee handling the finance portfolio. As a Bengali, I do hope he makes some special provisions for his home state in this year's Budget.

As a student, I expect more educational loans at cheaper rates, more institutions in our state and greater job opportunities for the youth.

I appeal to the central government to take some concrete steps so that education reaches each and everybody.

I want the government to introduce a uniform education policy across India so that the students of any particular state can easily compete with his or her counterpart from any other state.

Coming from a lower middle class family, I know how difficult it is to complete graduation. I, therefore, appeal to the government to make education cheaper, better and more affordable.


Image: Meghatiti Banerjee, Student
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Progress doesn't mean more shopping malls'

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Mousumi Sarkar
NGO worker, Tamoghna Society of Health Research and Development

Being a student of economics, it pains me to see that the Union Budget often fails to put theories into practice. It frequently represents a bagful of jargon, a farce.

I read somewhere that the government had projected a tax revenue growth of 11 per cent and a real growth of 7 per cent last year. But in reality, the figures were much lower.

Can someone tell me, why do we have this discrepancy? When will we stop fooling ourselves and call spade a spade?

In the Interim Budget, the government had not tweaked the tax structure. If it takes the same stand this time, it will have an impact on the economy. For instance, I do expect the Sensex to nosedive if there is no change in the tax structure. 

The foremost duty of the present government, I feel, will, therefore, be to rationalise the tax system.

I really appreciate the UPA government's National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. It does help the rural poor to a great extent.

I appeal to the government to come up with similar schemes for the urban population. As we all know, the rate of unemployment in cities is pretty high.

The government must also take some concrete steps to bring down the rate of fiscal deficit, which stands at 13 per cent at present.

It should also allocate enough funds for the agricultural sector, which despite all reforms, is still in a pretty bad shape. The government should also generate funds for rural infrastructure development.

The latter has a dual advantage -- it will give FMCG companies a boost and that in turn will generate urban employment.

We expect the Budget to channelise more funds into power, infrastructure, education, health. It should take some policy decisions about insurance for urban slum dwellers. Steps are needed to improve sanitation in urban slums.

Real progress for a country does not mean more shopping malls, rather it stands for better lives for its residents.

We have every reason to like the new finance minister Pranab Mukherjee more than his predecessor P Chidambaram.

According to me, he understands the global economy better than Chidambaram and is an excellent team person. He really knows how to get the best out of his team members.


Image: Mousumi Sarkar, NGO worker, Tamoghna Society of Health Research and Development
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Budget? It only makes the rich richer'

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Subhabrata Sikder
Businessman

I keenly follow the Union Budget proceedings every year but I am sorry to say India is ruled by an economy which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.

It's sad but true.

The government makes such tall claims about the gross domestic product scaling new heights. But does a higher GDP rate mean reduction in poverty rate? No!

Surprisingly, India makes 'progress' but fails to uplift the poor and the downtrodden. It's depressing and ironical.

Inflation, consumer price index, fiscal deficit are jargons that have no significance in the lives of poor or the middle class.

I read in the newspapers that inflation rate has declined. But I don't see it getting transformed into an increased savings for me and my family. My standard of living does not get cheaper. So, how can we deduce that inflation is down?

We have Pranab Mukherjee as the finance minister now and we do expect some 'people-friendly' policies from him. I think he will make a much better finance minister than P Chidamabaram.

As a businessman, I appeal to him to revise the value added tax system. My customers often complain of the VAT rates being too steep. If he restructures the VAT, it would lead to more demand, better sales figures and increased production.


Image: Subhabrata Sikder, Businessman
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Govt must take steps to stabilise the stock markets'

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Kamal Sikder
Stock market investor

Stock markets' figures, in recent times, looked like worst nightmares.

However, ever since a stable government came into power in May, things have started looking up.

Therefore, the onus now rests on the new government to take concrete steps that will further stabilise the markets.

I read a rediff.com report recently that said that the Indian Meteorological Department had claimed this year's monsoon will be 96 per cent or near-normal. And that economists and agricultural experts said this will be good for the economy.

This spells good news for us.

Pranab Mukherjee needs to take cautious steps while presenting this year's Budget.

He did not make any change in the tax structure in the Interim Budget and that had an adverse impact on the Sensex.

The salaried individuals as well as stock market investors like me, therefore, do expect tax sops from him this time.

Also, the finance minister needs to tweak the interest rates to ease the burden of those belonging to the middle and the lower middle class.

He should also take calculated steps to allocate more funds for agricultural development.

Last but not the least, the Budget should grant more funds towards making corporate governance stricter so that India does not see a repeat of Satyam-like fraud, which had dealt a severe blow to the Indian markets early this year.


Image: Kamal Sikder, stock market investor
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'More tax sops, please'

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Sraboni Goswami
Housewife

I always read everything about the Budget, especially about the direct taxes.

For, to me, less tax sops means my husband's diktat to curtail the household expenses, like he did immediately after the interim Budget was tabled in Parliament.

As there was no change in the tax rates in the interim Budget, I do hope that the government does something this time to ease our burden of expenditure.

Apart from the taxes, Budget to me seems too complicated: terms like fiscal deficit, gross domestic income, tax revenue growth scare me stiff.

The Budget statements published in newspapers often read like legal documents. They don't make any sense at all.

Is there anyway the government can simplify the terms and make Budget more comprehensive and transparent to the masses?

Am I making a ludicrous demand?


Image: Sraboni Goswami, Housewife
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Kolkata hasn't made any progress at all'

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T Burman
Assistant Director, Central Board for Workers Education, Ministry of Labour & Employment, Govt of India

I am visiting Kolkata after many years, more than two decades, actually.But sadly, I see no change in the city.

The city still moves at a snail's pace. There are a few shopping malls here and there, a couple of flyovers but those cannot be the yardsticks for progress, right?

As a Bengali, I do hope and pray that this year's Budget allocates special funds for this state of my birth.

The Centre needs to intervene here.

Be it law and order, health network, infrastructure and education, the city is in a bad state. A major jolt is needed to set things right.

I know there has been a major political change in the state. But I cannot be too sure if the change would be for the better.

Will Trinamool Congress prove to be a better alternative than the Left Front? Time alone can provide the answer.

However, with Pranab Mukherjee as the new finance minister, I do believe he would do something for his state as well.

As a salaried person, I don't expect tax cuts in this year's Budget. To be honest, more tax cuts are not the need of the hour. Rather, the minister should focus on building a new India.

With a new, stable government at the Centre, people have every right to expect a lot from Mukherjee.

A veteran politician that he is, I don't think he will let them down.


Image: A woman works in a paddy field near Singur, about 50 km (31 miles) north of Kolkata. (Inset) T Burman, Assistant Director, Central Board for Workers Education, Ministry of Labour & Employment, Govt of India.
Photographs: Parth Sanyal/Reuters and Dipak Chakraborty
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