A normal day’s routine to office doesn’t invite any attention and that is why an average Indian wife is never excited when her husband goes to work every day. When he is promoted to a higher position, there is temporary increase in lifestyle before the new style becomes the new norm and loses charm. If the elevation is extraordinarily game-changing, the levels of excitement multiply to an eternal change in quality of living. Likewise, I view this Union Budget through the three stages of an Indian housewife—not excited, moderately excited and super excited.
The Union Budget’s super excitement comes from the curb on the political donations. By limiting single source cash donations to a one-time Rs 2,000, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has made politicians, including his own party members, to work 10 times more for the same effect.
Moderate excitement has been delivered through different announcements touching various spheres such as agriculture, rural development, infrastructure, small and medium enterprises and digital economy. Moderate excitement is also because of the capital/revenue than the plan/non-plan approach to the budget and the attempts to widen tax base. The transformation of Railways budget, from a single-child comfort zone of one parliament session to an adopted-kid zone of three minutes, is a major savings to not only Parliamentary resources but also the redefinition of the budget’s characteristic.
The allocation of funds to education, science and technology, and skill and entrepreneurship is ritualistic with no game-changing initiatives. Jaitley is not to be blamed for the unexcitable 10 per cent increase in allocation from the previous year’s Rs 72,394 crore to this year’s Rs 79,600 crore, as education is under the concurrent list. The role of various states is equally important in this social sector knowledge economy. The impulsive excitement that many had on the budget day is superficial on more than one count.
Bulk of the Rs 3,626 crore-increase in allocation for higher education will go to IITs and IIMs, considering the rate at which they have been McDonaldised. Allocations to central universities, IISERs, NITs and IIITs are marginal in increase. With a bulk of these allocations going for recurring expenses, the current faculty positions are a blessing in disguise—the combined faculty vacancies in all these institutions are a minimum 30 per cent. Allocations to SWAYAM (India’s MOOC) and other ICT initiatives, such as NMEICT, digital library etc. are previous year’s extensions with no major new announcements. The financial allocations to schemes such as world-class universities, Impacting Research Innovation & Technology (IMPRINT), research and MTech assistance etc. are disproportional to the amount of vocal narratives and ground realities on these initiatives.
Announcements such as reforming the University Grants Commission (an idea which will celebrate its 10th year anniversary soon), new accreditation framework, National Testing Agency (NTA) etc. are not necessarily a budget announcement as these are policies and regulations under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, and the cost to the exchequer is also minimal. With NEET being objected to by some states, the idea of a NTA (which was conceived in 1986) needs to be tested for the contemporary political landscape for final results.
For the newborn Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Ministry, the continued efforts to provide nutritive baby food reflect a caring mother’s attitude, and hence stirs no excitement. The allocations to the support Ministry of Science and Technology are aligned with a broad need to support academic research with narrow funding.
Though much was expected on some service tax exemptions for the education sector, I rest with the hope that it is on its way with the proposed GST bill.
Dean, Planning & Development, SASTRA University