Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, Arjun Kumar, Anshula Mehta, Nikhil Jacob

The Union Budget 2021 has taken a cue from the Economic Survey and focused on growth. In fact, it talks only about growth and not about mitigating inequalities, remarked Dr Jyotsna Jha, Director, Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS), Bengaluru. She was speaking at a Panel discussion held on 08 February 2021, on the topic, ‘Pandemic & Union Budget 2021: Implementation and the way forward’ organized by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi and Counterview.

Jyotsna Jha

Elaborating on this growth fetish, she added that while growth may lift people above the poverty line, it is indifferent to the concept of inequality and distress, which may still be widely prevalent considering that our definition of the poverty line is very conservative. The growth achieved may even be a jobless growth or a job loss growth, which does not address mitigating inequalities, she remarked.

Dr Jha was critical that the Budget, which is an annual financial statement and a tool of accountability, tried to be mask specific facts. She cited the Health Budget example that was claimed to have been hiked by 137 percent when the core allocations to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Ayush increased by only about 10 percent to over Rs 71,000 crore. 

Dr Jha lauded the focus on improving infrastructure but suggested that the kind of infrastructure being planned needs to be taken into consideration as all may not necessarily have the same multiplier effect on employment and growth. She also commented on the move to increase the Foreign Direct Investment limit into the insurance sector and cautioned that this may further exacerbate the urban-rural divide as health insurance utilizations are more in the cities.

Highlighting the decline in allocations to several critical sectors like Women and Child Development, Agriculture etc, Dr Jha maintained that there is need for higher investments in these sectors while also focussing on upgrading the Public Health System, Public Education Services and Higher Education Institutes.

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