Budget 2013 leaked: A peep into what FM Chidambaram was upto!
February, 28th 2013
The winter has been hard this year and it is not quite the season for me to venture out. But having strayed onto Raisina Hill in the capital on the eve of Budget day, I decided to make the best of it. I strayed into the corner room in North Block, knowing little that this was the nerve centre today. Settling down on the wall close to the writing desk (I couldn't risk going too close, lest the fly zapper is called for) I chose a vantage point to get a helicopter view. Within minutes of settling in, the country's finance minister P Chidambaram walked over to the desk, preparing his eighth budget speech. Aha! I soon realized the treat I was in for. Dear Readers, watch out for these words in the FM's speech!
"I have to stick to the numbers and propel growth, continuing the reforms" PC was muttering to himself. "But it's just not that- My job is to ensure that this government is voted back to power, and that's the tricky part," he said while scribbling down a set of numbers on a white paper. I could read the capital letters- Subsidy, Expenditure, and Revenue... It was imminent that he was under immense pressure. Yet he exuded a sense of confidence in some odd way. The fiscal discipline part is done for this financial year, "I am home on this count having met 5.1% and what's more, even my worst critics will have to acknowledge this. Fiscal consolidation will have to be the backbone of this budget as this alone can bring back foreign investors, not to forget the close watch by the credit rating agencies and the risk of a slippage," he read out. One thing was sure, "the government would keep the fuel subsidies lower this year as motor fuel prices had been decontrolled," he smiled to himself as he recalled how hard it was to sell this to the party.
The mute television screen caught his eye just then as it beamed an advertisement on how easy it was to buy and invest in gold. "Gold imports has posed a huge problem for the current account deficit (CAD) making it almost impossible for Subba to bring down the interest rates. I need to get investors away from gold and divert to savings," he said even as he ran through the high inflation numbers.
"That Infy guy, Nilekani, has done a good job with Aadhaar the direct benefit transfer, and now that it has been adopted by my party I need to make this the centre point of my new and old schemes," he said eyeing through the detailed list of schemes attached to the DBT. "It will be a strong political plank but that is not all. This is my weapon to target subsides better, make government welfare schemes effective and cut out waste; It will help in fiscal consolidation as it will help bring my subsidy bill down but most importantly this will give the leg up to financial inclusion." He appeared a bit pre-occupied at this point, looking away from his papers. "I need the states on board for this, will weave in some sops if needed, for their partnership is crucial to make the DBT pay dividends," he said aloud, leaning back on his chair for a brief moment before he swung back to add a post-it on to a page. I stretched forward to read the page..States partnership to roll out the Goods and Services Tax ( GST). But Alas! I could not read the date, it was far too small.
Flipping through the pages as he crossed the Ts and dotted the Is, I had heard he was a perfectionist; he eyeballed the paragraphs in part A of his speech. As if he was ticking the boxes, "this one on poverty alleviation, skills, R&D, rural roads, infrastructure, education, mid-day meals, textile industry, MSMEs, health..." the list went on till he suddenly stopped. "Women and gender issues have to be addressed and this is something I need to assure," Chidambaram read aloud. A higher tax exemption, special safety features for working women to name a few.
Going through the pages quickly he zeroed down on the part on right to food. "This was close to Mrs Gandhi and is important for the vast poor in our country," he said to himself. "The bill has to be brought in even as I have to work with my opposition colleagues to get the pension bill and Lokpal bill," he said.