The Finance Minister has been able to achieve a difficult balance between growth-oriented expenditure and fiscal prudence. The thrust on infrastructure development expenditure is expected to fuel growth. Lowering tax rate to 25 % for SMEs would also help business growth. The stock market has given thumbs up to the budget proposals by the Sensex increasing by 486 points.
The Agricultural and Rural Development sector has also been given a thrust. With the proposed plan to harness digital technology a larger part of rural India would be brought into the formal economy.
A very important point that needs to be noted is that for the first time there is an attempt in the budget document to make the government accountable for the promises it has made. The document gives detailed targets for all the ministries and departments. An example is the allocation of Rs. 9000.00 crores for the PM Fasal Bima Yojana which states that the target is to provide insurance cover to 40% of gross cropped area which would minimise risk by 60%.
Another significant aspect of the budget is the proposal that legislative reforms would be undertaken to simplify, rationalise, and merge the existing labour laws into 4 codes. This is going to help in reducing the perceived barriers to doing business as mentioned by foreign investors.
The FM presented some interesting and potentially useful proposals in the area of education:
1. Introduction of a system of measuring annual learning outcomes in schools and an emphasis on science education and flexibility in the curriculum to promote creativity which is woefully lacking in our highly bureaucratic educational system. There are many reports on school education that show the abysmally low levels of learning outcomes in our schools in arithmetic and language ability. These lacunae get translated into un-employability of our youth when they are old enough to look for jobs in the organised sector.
2. Creation of an Innovation Fund for Secondary Education to encourage local innovations to ensure universal access, gender parity, and quality improvement.
3. Proposal to undertake reforms in the UGC to encourage greater administrative and academic autonomy based on outcome-based accreditation and ranking. This is in line with the recommendations made by the Group of Secretaries who had suggested that the top universities in the country be unshackled from the UGC's stringent regulations to give full expression to their ambitious dreams. It is hoped that autonomy based on accreditation and ranking and funding linked to performance would enable the dream of our country to be in the forefront of research and teaching at the world level.
4. Creation of a National Testing Agency as an autonomous and self-sustained testing organisation to conduct all entrance examinations for higher education institutions that would free the CBSE and AICTE of conducting routine examinations and enable them to concentrate on academics.
5. Launch of the next phase of STRIVE (Skill Strengthening for Industrial Value Enhancement) at a cost of Rs. 2,200.00 crores. It's very important for the country to lay stress on high-quality vocational education that would enable the vast majority of our youth who do not have interest in academics per se or are unable to pursue the same due to a variety of reasons to get gainful employment opportunities. I would; however, recommend that the education system in our country should be so designed that people who are left out of higher education at the time of leaving school can re-enter higher education when they develop the interest or are able to finance their higher education.
About the Author:
Prof. Shekhar Chaudhuri, Director, Calcutta Business School is a respected name in the Indian B-School circles. Dr. Chaudhuri served as the director in IIM Calcutta for two consecutive terms where he was responsible for launching new academic programs and significant thrust in research activities, accreditations many academic initiatives.