The IMPRI Center for Work and Welfare (CWW) and the IMPRI Center for the Study of Finance and Economics (CSFE) recently organized an insightful panel discussion on the theme “Employment, Livelihoods & Interim Budget 2024-25” and “Cities, Local Governance, and Interim Union Budget 2024-25” as part of the IMPRI 4th Annual Series of Thematic Deliberations on Union Budget 2023-24. This virtual event, held on February 3, 2024, brought together prominent experts to delve into the implications of the interim budget on various facets of the Indian economy.
Employment, Livelihoods & Interim Budget 2024-25:
The session on employment and livelihoods, chaired by Professor Suchita Krishnaprasad, commenced with an insightful overview of the budget. Prof. Krishnaprasad acknowledged India’s resilience in the face of the pandemic, with a commendable 6-7% progress in GDP. However, she didn’t shy away from addressing the country’s challenges, such as poor human development rankings and high income inequality. The professor touched upon technological advancements, including the use of modern ECG devices and mobile apps to detect lung infections, showcasing India’s strides in healthcare. However, she lamented the unfavorable climate for foreign investment and the impact of extensive infrastructure spending on social programs.
Dr. Sandhya S. Iyer, from the prestigious TISS Institute, brought forth a vision of an advanced India by 2047. While praising the inclusivity of the vision, she critiqued the lack of concrete steps for job creation and real wage growth. The absence of tangible programs and metrics on employment was emphasized, making the rhetoric on inclusion appear hollow. Additionally, Dr. Iyer highlighted the complexity of India’s dual economies, calling for tailored solutions.
Next, Mr. Sandeep Chandra focused on the impact of the budget on farmers. While applauding the government’s plans for housing under the PMAY scheme, he noted the persistent need for more housing. He acknowledged the positive aspects of rooftop solar initiatives but brought attention to the vulnerability of farmers and fishing communities to climate change. As extreme weather events worsen, compensation funds in the budget were praised for supporting these groups during disasters.
Prof. Swarna Sadashivam Vepa provided a data-driven perspective on the increasing participation of women in the labor force. While highlighting significant strides, she expressed concern over declining agricultural productivity, stressing the need for continued support for smallholder farmers. Prof. Randhir Singh Rathore zeroed in on the shortage of institutes focused on skills training, praising initiatives targeting jobs in construction and tourism. He emphasized the importance of research and development funding for economic ripple effects.
The last panelist, Prof. Ranjit Singh Ghuman, took a unique stance by labeling the budget as politicized rather than pragmatic. Viewing it through the lens of rural development, he identified declines in GDP under the NDA government as troubling indicators. Prof. Ghuman stressed the need for prudent planning to prevent the shrinking of rural economies and groundwater depletion.
In summary, the budget discussion spanned positive views to constructive critiques. While technological gains and social initiatives drew praise, economists worried about persistent inequality, agricultural challenges, and lagging job creation. The mix of optimism for initiatives like skills training and renewable energy with troubling signs like GDP declines underscores the complex, uneven nature of India’s development. With more holistic, inclusive policymaking, strong progress can continue, overcoming remaining hurdles. India’s diversity necessitates tailored solutions tackling unique regional and sectoral barriers. But its promise and recent advances highlight cause for hope.
Cities, Local Governance, and Interim Union Budget 2024-25:
The subsequent session, chaired by Dr. Rumi Ajaz ji, focused on the interim budget’s implications for urban development. Dr. Ajaz ji emphasized the temporary nature of the budget and its significance in shaping urban policies. The panelists provided in-depth insights into key policy measures, challenges, and opportunities in the urban landscape.
Prof. Chetan Vaidya, an Independent Urban Advisor, started the discussion by acknowledging the reduction in funds for Smart Cities but expressing optimism about their conclusion in June. He stressed the importance of collaboration between ministries and local bodies for effective urban development plans. Prof. Kala S. Sridhar from the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC) highlighted key policy measures in the interim budget, emphasizing the significance of urban transformation. Commending the focus on micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and regional connectivity through schemes like Udan, she underscored the positive economic outcomes of enhanced collaboration and increased productivity in smaller towns.
Prof. Mahalaya Chatterjee from the University of Calcutta provided a nuanced analysis of the interim budget, emphasizing the continuity in allocations for housing and urban affairs. She stressed the importance of bridging the gap between rural and urban planning and proposed an integrated approach considering peri-urban areas.
Professor Manjula Bharathy, Dean at the School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, brought a unique blend of practical and ideological perspectives on local governance in cities. She emphasized the need for women-centric policies and their effective implementation at the local level. The session extended to Professor Bharathy’s work on localizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focusing on health, gender, water and sanitation, urbanization, and climate change.
Dr. Joy Elamon, Director-General of the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), provided a critical examination of the budget. He noted the absence of spectacular announcements, especially in the pre-election month, making it an intriguing observation. Dr. Elamon raised crucial questions about the implications for the federal nature of the country and its impact on local governance. He expressed concerns about the budget’s tendency to circumvent cooperative federalism, emphasizing a trend towards centralizing fiscal powers.
Dr. Jawed Alam Khan, Thematic Lead – Fiscal Decentralisation at the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), New Delhi, provided a critical analysis of the union budget. He focused on the challenges faced by local governments, particularly in rural areas, over the last two decades. Dr. Khan highlighted the recurring issue of underutilization of budgets and expressed concerns about the lack of improvement in the quality of utilization.
Prof. Tathagata Chatterji, Professor of Urban Management and Governance at Xavier University, Bhubaneswar, delved into a detailed analysis of the interim budget, addressing four pivotal areas shaping India’s developmental transformation: digitalization, infrastructure and connectivity, climate change and environmental concerns, and demographic changes.
In conclusion, the panel discussions offered a comprehensive analysis of the interim budget’s impact on various aspects of the Indian economy, covering employment, livelihoods, urban development, and local governance. The experts provided nuanced insights, highlighting both positive aspects and areas of concern, stressing the need for comprehensive and collaborative approaches to address the complex challenges faced by the country. The IMPRI 4th Annual Series succeeded in fostering meaningful dialogue and understanding among experts and participants alike, contributing to informed discussions on India’s economic trajectory.