May 17, 2021
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So how did the expert commentators react to Arun Jaitley's maiden budget? Some reactions from the main newspapers:

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar in the Economic Times: Arun Jaitley's maiden budget is like Chidambaram's with a saffron lipstick:

It's not a radical Modi budget but a Chidambaram budget with saffronBSE -1.91 % lipstick added. Many of Arun Jaitley's budget figures and policies resemble those in Chidambaram's interim budget. Many thought Jaitley's maiden budget would produce a major vision for five years, major reforms and some bitter medicine.

Sorry, there was no great fiscal vision, only minor reform, and sugar-coated pills rather than bitter ones. Instead of being long on vision, the budget speech was long in duration (almost two and a half hours).

Stock markets fell for a third successive day. My personal budget rating: 4.5 out of 10, not because Jaitley proposed anything terrible but because he could have done so much more. The budget had innumerable out lays for innumerable projects, a case of "no vote-bank left behind". Instead of uniform tax rates without exceptions, Jaitley announced a multitude of small tax changes, all increasing the exceptions list.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express: Building half-bridges:

The Union budget is a deep disappointment. It displays India’s weakness as a nation in full measure: articulate lofty goals, give a lot of promissory notes and then design pitiable instruments. Or, if you prefer a numerical metaphor, it is a trillion-dollar economy with a hundred crore mindset (of course, no pun intended). The finance minister’s opening statement sounded promising: it eloquently diagnosed the economic challenges and set three-year fiscal goals that sounded eminently sensible. It delivers some fiscal reform, promises, some administrative simplification, but then devolves into a series of small-minded schemes, both on the taxation side and the government expenditure side. It may be some consolation that the budget does not stray into fiscal irresponsibility, but it does not, as yet, signal a major paradigm shift.

Haseeb A. Drabu in the Mint: A corporate, social and responsible budget

The budget is corporate in its ideology, social in its ideation and responsible in intent. In weaving the three together, the budget seeks to achieve a balance between national economic imperatives and political objectives. While the former remains by and large the same as in the past, the latter is distinctly more right wing than before...

The underlying message of this budget is of continuity rather than a break in the overall economic and fiscal regime. This is important insofar as the feature of, and the reason for, the success of the post-1990 economic policy was the broad political consensus underlying it. 

Not much has been made of it, but the fact remains that despite opposition of a few political parties, successive governments followed the same nature and direction of economic reforms. 

Of late, not only had this consensus been decisively disrupted, the manner in which the debates were being conducted—be it on the allocation of resources or the foreign direct investment in retail—suggested a disruptive break. 

This budget restores the political consensus on the direction and substance of economic reforms. This is the biggest directional takeaway of this budget which is otherwise drowned in detail.

Surjit Bhalla, ever the contrarian, is perhaps one of the few mainstream economic commentators worth taking seriously who was unequivocal in his praise for Mr Jaitley's budget, writing also in the Indian Express: From Hope to Reality:

The difference between Jaitley’s budget and the UPA budgets is not in the presentation (bad in both), but in content. The BJP budget talks about investment, and how the investments necessary for enhanced growth will be financed, how the cost of this financing has to be, and will be, substantially reduced, for example, no CRR and SLR requirements for infrastructure investments. The UPA budgets, in contrast, talked about how, by giving rights to all, of all kinds, including happiness, they would end up by delivering everyone misery. That is the difference between Modi-Jaitley and Sonia Gamdhi-UPA — and vive la différence!

...No matter how you slice it, Budget 2014-15 (but not the long “everything and don’t forget the kitchen sink” speech) is one of the best content budgets of the last two decades. One will have to wait till the February budget (2015-16) to see if the Modi-Jaitley budget will be remembered as second only (or equal to) the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh budget of 1991.

Arvind Subramanian: Modi’s First Budget for India: Disappointing but Retrievable

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategic vision underlying his first budget speech, presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on July 10, calls for an India that needs to grow rapidly and create opportunities for all. But while that vision deserves the highest of grades, the substance and the policy actions were not equal to the goal.

In substance, this was a budget prepared by incumbent bureaucrats, not incoming politicians. It represented continuity—which surprisingly was endorsed by much of the post-budget commentary—when the need of the hour was change. The following analysis focuses on macroeconomic rather than real sector policies.

Ashok V. Desai in the Telegraph: A Good Maiden Budget

But a few things are not great about the budget. The fiscal deficit is projected to change very little. This, however, can be justified on the grounds of mixed signals. On the one hand, the current account is running huge deficits; that would have called for fiscal tightening. On the other hand, the growth rate, close to 4 per cent, is low for India; industry in particular is doing pretty badly. That would have called for a fiscal stimulus. One can say that pulled on both sides, the finance minister decided to stay where he was. Second, Congress budgets were known for numerous boondoggles with Sanskrit names ostensibly for the poor, children, widows and such other people worth helping. They were all schemes for making corrupt party men, bureaucrats and traders rich; one only has to look at the assets of election candidates in the past twenty years to see how rich they made them. Jaitley’s budget is also replete with such boondoggles. To mention just a few, there is one to “cover every household by total sanitation”, whatever that might mean, another to “deliver integrated project based infrastructure in rural areas”. Third, the gigantic statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. I am a great admirer of him; I met him for the last time just two months before his death. But a statue of him is of the same order as the elephants erected by Mayavati, only a hundred times more wasteful. Vallabhbhai would have thoroughly disapproved of it. And finally, Jaitley is extremely vague about many of these schemes. Clearly, he has done precisely what Chidambaram did. Every year before the budget, the finance minister is swarmed by opportunists of his party who put up ostensibly philanthropic schemes; for each, he provides fifty or a hundred crores in the budget. But Jaitley did not ask for even minimum details. He was in too much hurry to present the budget; he should have taken another month and done a better job. His good intentions are transparent; everyone would approve of them. But he tells us so little about how he will go about realizing them, that one’s confidence in him is apt to evaporate.

And, of course, there is Swapan Dasgupta, who called it a Soporific speech, sensible Budget:

If Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget speech was as crisp and focused as his post-Budget interview to Doordarshan, it is almost certain that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s many supporters and well-wishers would have had an extra bounce in their steps. Unfortunately, Jaitley’s maiden exercise in reading from a prepared script left just too many viewers—apart from those deeply involved in finance and industry—completely underwhelmed. Apart from the fact that the entire exercise in the Lok Sabha took up more than two hours (with interruptions), the speech meandered its way through a dhobi list of proposals, some critically important to the future of the Indian economy and taxpayers and others that seemed remarkably trivial. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that Jaitley, a remarkably good lawyer, is better speaking extempore than reading from a prepared script.

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