Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced the Budget 2020 and it is a bigger disappointment than was gauged by the political analysts and economists. Apart from failing to address economic slowdown and unemployment, it has severe data discrepancies which show the non-serious attitude of the Ministers towards their jobs. For the first time in history, a government Budget prepared by the Finance Ministry cites Wikipedia as a source, which is a volunteer based encyclopedia that anyone can edit from all over the world.
Regarding economic slowdown, in private meetings with industrialists, the Finance Minister and Prime Minister have exhibited strong awareness of the economic crisis and an openness to hear inputs on what can be done. That was not at all seen anywhere in the Budget speech.
Perhaps the government believes it is only cyclical and things will get better on their own from now on. Or maybe it believes that a public recognition of the economic stress will spoil the narrative of a vibrant Indian economy. An out and out public acknowledgment of the current economic distress would have been a huge enabler of radical steps to set things right. That should have been the message of the Finance Minister’s very exhaustive speech.
The Budget assumes that there is no economic slowdown at all and hence, it has been built on the assumption of a nominal GDP growth rate of 10% in 2020-21, which does not appear feasible given the state of the economy. The nominal growth rate for fiscal 2019-20 as per government estimates is 7.5% and therefore, the recovery from here has to be sharp to justify next year’s projection. The gross tax revenue growth projection of 11.99% also appears very optimistic especially because it has been built on the premise of a 11.54% rise in corporate tax collections. Given the slowdown in profit growth and the lower corporate tax rate now, it is debatable if this projection can be met.
Congress leader and Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram questioned the numbers put up by the government for different measures. He said, “The current year’s nominal growth is estimated at 12 per cent and it ended at 8.5 per cent. If you project next year’s nominal growth at 10 per cent, imagine what it will be?” He also criticised the government over increasing inflation. “I can’t see how the slide will be arrested and growth will start.”
And while the finance minister called for strong credible data in her speech, it is ironical that documents related to Union Budget 2020-21 were themselves riddled with glaring discrepancies. On the website, details of budgetary allocations are available in two file formats: PDF files and Excel files. An analysis of these two file types showed that figures of budgetary allocation for the Department of Health and Family Welfare in the PDF file were different from the ones in the Excel file at several places.
Moreover, Wikipedia has for the first time become an information source for the Economic Survey and people all over the internet are asking if the next step will be WhatsApp. Wikipedia is a source created by volunteers but may not be a source for a country’s Budget making exercise.
It is not surprising in a country where majority of the people get their share of “credible” information from Whatsapp and where the Prime Minister is unable to produce his degree, that important Budget documents deciding the fate of the nation have data discrepancies and Wikipedia as a “legitimate” source of information. The Budget is a mockery of Indian sensibilities and a deceit with the unemployed youth fighting to make ends meet.