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Cover Story

Budgets since 82
Dilip Thakore, Former Editor, Leading business magazines, on how the nature of union budgets have changed over time
Issue Date - 16/02/2012
Many claim that Union budgets over time, have favoured the interests of powerful business houses. And that this started with the 1982 budget, which the-then FM Pranab Mukherjee had presented. Call it a coincidence, but three decades later, it will be the same individual as FM to present the Union Budget (after March 9, 2012). Dilip Thakore, who was the first journalist to interview Pranab Mukherjee, gives his perspectives on how the nature and purpose of such budgets have changed since 1982.

The Union Budget of 1982 was criticised for having been framed to serve the interests of a particular business house. Do you think so?
I presume you mean Reliance Industries. Many think so. Blatant favouritism does hurt the reputation of the government and the industry. The cynicism about the government and the industry, arguably had its origins in that Budget of 1982.

To what extent did budgets of that era favour powerful business houses of the likes of the Birlas, the Singhanias, the Modis, the Goenkas et al?
To a great extent Id say. But they were perhaps a necessary correction. These budgets planted the seeds of liberalisation which flowered in 1991. They were proof that the Nehruvian public sector experiment had failed and prepared the ground for the liberalisation and deregulation initiative of 1991, which doubled the annual rate of GDP growth and lifted an estimated 200 million people out of poverty!

How did the mainstream media cover such budgets?
Confusingly, if I recall. Mainstream media was so used to bashing private industry during those days that it continued to do so. But some business magazines did help educate the media about the bankruptcy of the public sector-led growth model.

How have Union Budgets changed since the early 1980s?
Not for the better. Although they dont make large provisions for PSUs and have slashed corporate and income taxes, they still allocate large amounts to unproductive schemes like MGNREGA and for unmerited middle class subsidies. The consequence is that allocations for agriculture, education, health, infrastructure, law are inadequate.

Have budgets stopped favouring business houses and lobbies?
Yes. But there are still too many concessions and tax loopholes for the industry! Still, too many exemptions and concessions are given to the industry and too few to ordinary citizens. As a result household savings are wasted by the Union and State governments.

Budgets of pre-and post-liberalisation the main difference?
Pre-liberalisation budgets were heavily biased in favour of non-performing PSUs. Budgets of today are more ideologically neutral.

Your most-memorable budget memories...
None apart from the July 1991 budget, which substantially dismantled licence-permit-quota raj against which I had raised the banner of revolt using print media. Since then I have been unsuccessfully fighting for larger allocations for quality education for all (QEFA) for the worlds largest child population.

So according to you, have we progressed in terms of the Union budget since 1991?
Since the 1991 Union budget, its been two steps forward, one step back. And I am particularly disappointed by the obtuse failure of successive governments and finance ministers to invest in developing the abundant human resources of this society of entrepreneurs.


Kumar Buradikatti           

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