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FANCY DRESSER

It is not possible to look inside his heart, but the finance minister generally gives the impression that he thinks highly of his own performance. He did not let down the expectations of his audience. In particular, he tried to convince it that the Indian economy, whose growth rate has halved in the last five years, has done extremely well under his stewardship. He may well be right, since no one can know how well it would have done under a less accomplished dresser.

But it must be admitted that the finance minister has a way of dressing up the figures. For instance, he skilfully avoided saying that net capital inflows in the current year would be $60 billion; he preferred to say that reserves would go up by $15 billion and the current account deficit would fall to $45 billion. Manufacturing has hardly grown for three years. His solution is a national manufacturing policy; we only have to wait for 10 years, and it will add a hundred million jobs. And then there will be eight national industrial manufacturing zones along the Delhi Mumbai industrial corridor. Just in case someone points out that a zone creates no jobs, he also announced nine projects in those zones. That is just the beginning; the government has already imagined three more corridors. And if some figures look too bad, the finance ministerís recipe is: just wait, things will improve some day. If this is all he learnt in Harvard, he would do well to take some years off and go to Hawaii. If these are the governmentís ideas of a stimulus, another government would be a good idea.

When it comes to the past, the finance ministerís boasts about what he has achieved and what the economy has achieved thanks to his presence in North Block may not be accurate, but they are comprehensible. After all, the vote on account is supposed only to present the accounting projection for the coming year on the assumption of no change in taxes. That is why it is a surprise that the finance minister has not left taxes untouched. He has reduced the excise on cars and two-wheelers, fats and oils, he has reduced taxes on cellphones to protect domestic production, and he has shown a special favour to Bank Note Paper Mill by reducing excise duty. These are all fiscal favours ó and they are not the only ones he has showered ó and some of them could conceivably be favours to voters or political financiers. It is surprising and improper that he should have done such favours in an election year. It is to be hoped that Parliament will disallow them on grounds of propriety. If it does not do so, the Election Commission should certainly question them; and if it forgets to do so, the courts should remind it.