Lack of transparency in the state budget is an issue that emerged quite sharply in Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s speech while presenting the Vote-on-Account for 2014-15 in the Assembly.
She rightly criticised the earlier Congress government for deliberately misleading the legislature and the people by presenting a revenue-surplus budget, which actually was revenue-deficit if implications of the expansion of pension schemes for widows and the elderly were fully taken into account.
The then chief minister, in his last budget speech for 2013-14, had announced that expansion of pension schemes was likely to cost the exchequer an additional Rs 1,500 crore per annum. Yet, the outgoing Congress government, budgeted only about Rs 700 crore in 2013-14 for the two pension schemes, allowing it to present a revenue-surplus budget.
The Congress government had also patted its own back for keeping fiscal deficit well within the limit of 3% of gross state domestic product (GSDP), as mandated by the FRBM Act. The current chief minister announced in her interim budget speech that according to revised estimates, 2013-14 is likely to have a revenue deficit of about Rs 2,505 crore. Fiscal deficit for the current year is likely to be Rs 18,301 crore, or 3.56% of GSDP.
The state government is also going to lose Rs 172 crore that it could have got in the form of concessions on interest rates on its National Small Savings Fund loans, had its fiscal deficit been reined in. Raje also declared her intention of keeping deficits within limits.
The chief minister announced production of 25,000 mw of solar energy in the next five years, laying of 20,000 km of roads and bringing water to far-flung villages. She also announced revival of the earlier BJP government’s Bhamashah Scheme for women. The Bhamashah scheme, brought in by the Raje government in her first tenure, aimed at opening bank accounts of 50 lakh poor women by providing them each with Rs 1,500.
She also announced that the expanded pension schemes have been provided with adequate budget in the revised estimates for 2013-14. According to the budget books, allocation for two pension schemes has been revised to Rs 2,643 crore for 2013-14 and Rs 3,142 crore for 2014-15.
As the government has presented just a Vote-on-Account and not a full budget yet, perhaps it is not fair to expect a lot of detailed announcements in her speech. But the chief minister would have presented the vision and direction of her government for the coming five years.
People expect social development schemes started by the previous government to continue and be strengthened, which Raje would have to assure the people about. These would include free medicine and check-ups for the poor, the chief minister’s rural and urban housing schemes as well as mega projects like the Jaipur Metro and Barmer refinery project.
The chief minister did, in fact, at a press conference later, announce that the first phase of the Jaipur Metro would be completed and the Barmer refinery had been allocated Rs 400 crore.
The state is witnessing a slow economic growth, particularly in agriculture, during the past two years, according to the Economic Review 2012-13. Employment under MGNREGA has also been on the decline. The Census 2011 suggested that farmers are quitting, only to become farm labourers. All this suggests the need for focusing on the rural sector.
Though estimates for 2014-15 may change for the complete budget, the government has not increased its allocation for rural development compared to revised estimates for 2013-14. Capital expenditure for rural development has, in fact, declined from Rs 794 crore in 2013-14 (RE) to Rs 764 crore.
Hopefully, the government will provide adequate attention to vital sectors like health, education, agriculture and rural development while presenting the full budget.
|ET, Jaipur Edition, Feb. 21, 2014|
|Daily News, Jaipur, Feb 21, 2014|