Ranchi, Feb. 17: Union finance minister P. Chidambaram “stuck to conventions” as he presented the UPA-II government’s interim budget for the 2014-15 fiscal in Parliament today ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, evoking sharp reactions in Jharkhand.
He slashed excise duty on durables and proposed a hike in the central assistance to states, avoiding any creativity while at the same time refraining from being overtly populist.
Announcements made in the budget — effectively a vote on account ahead of the polls — are unlikely to have adverse effects, but common people are unhappy with Chidambaram, who kept the income tax slabs unchanged.
Chief minister Hemant Soren, who heads the JMM-Congress-RJD coalition in the state, described the interim budged as balanced, but expressed doubts on its net outcome.
“This budget has attempted to give relief to poor and middle class. Also, steps have been taken to check soaring prices, but they have come very late. He (Chidambaram) has kept in mind the aspirations of commoners while presenting the budget, but time will tell how far people will benefit from this,” he added.
Developmental economist Ramesh Sharan termed it a “politically correct budget” with some exceptions in an election year.
Sharan said he had expected an increase in the income tax slabs. “It would have provided a much-need solace to people, particularly middle class, reeling under stubborn inflation,” he said.
Federation of Jharkhand Chamber of Commerce & Industries (FJCCI) is not delighted either, despite the excise duty cut to provide some relief to manufacturing and automobile sectors.
FJCCI secretary general P.K. Sharma believes trade and industry in Jharkhand will not benefit from this budget, since other components guiding the economic of the region will remain unchanged.
“We never expected much (from this budget). It is a good political stunt ahead of the elections. But, we are totally disappointed,” he added.
Tata Steel MD, T.V.Narendran said that while the government’s move to provide relief to the struggling manufacturing sector augured well for the steel industry, its problems were more structural in nature.
“While the finance minister has highlighted the role played by the cabinet committee on investment in clearing stuck projects, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive review of the entire mechanism for grant of clearances (environmental and forest) to industrial projects,” he said.
Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly Arjun Munda slammed the interim budget, saying no special measure was announced to boost agriculture and industrial sectors.
“Moreover, a mere 10 per cent increase in the defence budget (Rs 2,24,000 crore for 2014-15 fiscal) is negligible, considering new challenges ahead. Only Rs 6,000 crore has been earmarked for rural housing schemes, even though prices of commodities, especially those being used by poor, will not go down,” Munda argued.
State Congress spokesman Shailesh Sinha, nevertheless, rubbished the Opposition’s allegations while describing it as a balanced budget.
“It is only an interim budget. In his budget speech, the finance minister has clarified that there is enough space for necessary rectification after a new government is formed at the Centre,” he added.