July 05, 2020

Precious little for Bihar to rejoice about

The Union budget 2018-19, at least for Bihar, is a big disappointment. The budget seems targeted at winning elections and not at long-term measures for improving the standard of life. In Bihar, a state brimming with working class middle class, there seems to be extreme disappointment as no tax relief has been promised. The minuscule mercy of the Rs 40,000 standard deduction has been offered against travel and medical expenses. But after deducting these two expenses, the standard deduction won’t be more than Rs 6,000. It seems that the government is trying to promise unachievable targets to the public which would never be met.

A state like Bihar, which depends largely on its agriculture-driven economy, should have been especially joyous after the seemingly pro-agro budget. But this is not the case since, upon closer inspection, we find that the MSP (minimum support price) promised by the government is a distant dream. While the farmers were assured an MSP 1.5 times the cost of production, the finance minister did not mention the current production costs vis-à-vis MSP. The official data available on the government website clearly states that while the production costs are to the tune of Rs 2,300, the MSP is only about Rs 1,600. This is, by no means, 1.5 times. Another noteworthy issue is that within the state of Bihar, there are only 5-6% farmers who actually succeed in selling their produce at MSP. The rest have to settle for a much lower price.

The gas connections through Ujjwala Yojana are good news but the finance minister presented it as a present for women. This is highly questionable because of its apparent patriarchal undertone which expects women to be closed in the kitchens.

The health insurance scheme for the poor could also have been highly beneficial to Biharis had there been enough and adequate hospitals in the state. The condition in Bihar is such that even those with means run to Delhi or Mumbai for medical treatment due to lack of doctors and other facilities. How will a poor woman in Bihar benefit from such an insurance if there are no hospitals to support the demand in the state?

The increase in customs duty on foreign-made mobile phones might affect a certain class of people in Bihar and elsewhere but the budget should rather have been more considerate of the class which cannot afford such luxuries. And then, there is the announcement of a Rs 150-crore fund to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji himself would have surely been happier if this amount could have been given to the farmers in 19 flood-struck districts in Bihar who are still awaiting the promised compensation of Rs 500 crore.

Another important issue is that of government jobs which have always been dear to the people of Bihar. The government has, on the one hand, removed the system of interview from Grade C and D jobs in the government sector. On the other, though, they have also eliminated these jobs! It is astonishing how few recruitments are done. Additionally, to add insult to injury, the government has announced the opening of more Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendras. It seems that the government is entirely oblivious of the pain it causes to an educated and skilled youth not to get any job. Instead of creating a larger supply of skilled workers, the government should have worked on creating a larger demand for them in various sectors.

The FM did not shed any light on the current state of the 6 crore toilets which they have already built under the Swachh Bharat scheme. They announced further construction of toilets. It is not uncommon to see people across the state of Bihar lament the dirtying effect which these toilets have had on their environs. Without training about the cleaning and upkeep of these toilets, they cannot solve the purpose intended.

The FM made a jibe about ” Hawai-chappal”-clad people travelling in airplanes. This seems to be targeted against the poor people from Bihar. This, unfortunately, is happening because rail fares have gone beyond the reach of the poor man. This is not a measure of increased tourism. The budget has entirely overlooked women and children of the state, conveniently targeting a section of ill-informed male voters.

Courtesy: The Telegraph

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