Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and every citizen of India know that please all Budget is utopian. She has demonstrated more caution, vision, reason and ambition in her last four budgets, but the Union Budget 2023 cannot afford to be any of her past four Union Budgets.
It needs a new avatar.
It has to be above all the clichés associated with the Budgets. The challenge is effectively managing an economy in the next 12 months and shielding India from the global economic slowdown.
Importantly prepare Bharat to wade through the next phase of the huge global downturn, which is expected to experience the maximum unemployment recorded in all the worst-ever recessions.
As a Finance Minister and senior member of the Cabinet, she knows the financial and political compulsions in preparing a Budget for India. Unemployment and price rise are issues that can no longer be hidden with freebies ('revadi,'), government advertisements and academically brilliant arguments in parliament, TV debates, public forums or blind supporters of the BJP willing to pay ten times the cost of a gas cylinder and petrol or attempt to compare Indian economy with our neighbouring countries.
Traditionally, while presenting their Union Budget, every Finance Minister has found it easy to hide behind financial jargon; implications
of that are only understood after a few days when the tax experts unravel the impact of the announcements. The opposition also provides superficial comments to the Budget that are always on expected lines till then.
So on February 1, 2023, when she presents her fifth Union Budget, the general public won't see any change to the above tradition, or will there be a surprise? Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demonstrated in his two terms that simplifying technical and complicated systems and the process is the cornerstone of his government's attempt to provide good governance.
Will it be reflected in the 2023 Budget presentation? Grapevine in the corridors of government seems to suggest that there could be some breakaways from the past. Just for clarity, the corridors of government do not mean the North Block since that goes out of bounds for more than a month for anyone not connected with the Budget preparations.
Modi's popularity, in the various survey done by media, has shown an immunity to the economic difficulties faced by the middle class. That is a challenge the Finance Minister needs to keep up in her Budget 2023. But the growing public discontent with the lopsided economic growth of a few corporate houses has become an Achilles heel for the government. Opposition leaders, especially the Indian National Congress, have been quite vocal about it.
The recent questions raised by a Hindenburg Research report alleging that irregularities in Gautam Adani promoted Adani Group's various firms' accounting are fresh in the public memory.
Sure, one can argue it has nothing to do with the Budget Sitharaman will present on Wednesday. But can she afford to ignore it? Will the market not react if the silence is maintained on the allegation? After all, a huge middle-class investment is in the market.
Can she announce aggressive disinvestment of public sector companies, considering the fate of LIC in Adani's alleged financial irregularities? Can she introduce a higher corporate tax? Unlikely.
But she can link a compulsory employment parameter in the top 100 industries as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). What prevents the government from exploring provisions to amend the CSR law to ensure that corporates and individuals with a steady growth of personal and company wealth should generate a certain percentage of employment?
In her Budget 2023, can she reflect on the government's ability to employ or generate employment for at least 3.5 days a week for one family member by the end of the year? All the previous attempts by the NDA government to generate employment have failed to yield the desired results.
Once there is employment, a lot of management is possible to balance the economy.
Data on the status of manufacturing, inflation, and industrial growth have been debated threadbare on TV shows, print and social media. Unfortunately, the economists who paint bleak pictures are more than those with a positive outlook. The Finance Minister must tell the public what the number means to the government. Does it mean the
realisation of her vision for a healthy economy that she presented in her last four Budgets will be achieved only at the end of Amrit Kaal?
Her pictures of purchasing vegetables in a market and telling students that she understands the pain of the middle class should not be scorned or criticised.
Since it is hoped that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present a Budget that can manoeuvre effectively through—a low rate of growth, a crisis in the agriculture sector, services sector, small and medium enterprises, high inflation, imbalance in our balance of payment, a falling Rupee, global headwinds and a war that is disrupting the energy balance and global commitment to achieve sustainable development goals.