As expected, the interim Union budget has sought to emphasise grassroots level economic uplift, that should benefit the country in the years to come
The Interim Union Budget for 2024, slated to be till May this year, when a comprehensive budget for 2024-25 shall be presented by the new government, whichever it is, seems aimed at resurging the industrial sector and has propositions that the sector has largely welcomed.
The aviation, tourism, dairy and agricultural sectors and also the MSMEs seem poised for a good season, Deep technology for the defence sector is also up for some buoyance. The expansion of existing airports and development of new airports will continue expeditiously, and 517 new routes are to be launched under Udan Scheme.
This has been a double whammy of sorts, as this also feeds into the tourism Industry, with Island tourism as a focal point, which has so far not received much attention, and this had been predicted when Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had showcased in his much publicised visit to the Lakshwaadeep isles recently.
One may recall also that this is a continuation of the PM’s earlier stated policy of enhancing tourism in the Andaman & Nicobar archipelago:
There has been a gradual rise in the interest for domestic tourism, looking at which, projects for port connectivity, tourism infrastructure, and amenities will be taken up on India's islands, including Lakshadweep. This is expected to enhance employment opportunities as well.
States will be encouraged to take up comprehensive development of iconic tourist centres, branding and marketing them at global scales. There shall be developed a framework for rating of the centres based on quality of facilities ..
Dairy and Agriculture
A comprehensive programme for supporting dairy farmers will be formulated. The foot-and-mouth disease, a viral infection that can spread rapidly and which has human extension has been focal in investments in the dairy sector.
India is the world’s largest milk producer but with low productivity of milch-animals. The government’s new policy will be built on the success of existing schemes such as the Rashtriya Gokul Mission, National Livestock Mission, and Infrastructure Development Funds for dairy processing and animal husbandry.
Closely allied to the dairy sector, a strategy will be developed for the agriculture, and self-reliance in oilseeds production will be stressed. Efforts of the value addition in agriculture sector and increasing farmers' income will be stepped up.
After the adoption of Nano Urea, application of Nano DAP on various crops will be expanded in all agro-climatic zones. For ensuring faster growth of the sector Government will further promote private and public investment in post-harvest activity ..
The growth of the allied fisheries industry can also be seemingly buoyant. Implementation of Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) will be stepped up to enhance aquaculture productivity from existing 3 to 5 tons per hectare.
The scheme will also be stepped up to double exports to Rs 1 lakh crore and generate 55 lakh employment opportunities in near future.
Five integrated aquaparks will be setup, a Blue Economy 2.0 plan has been mooted to promote aquaculture.
A new scheme will be launched for strengthening deep-tech technology for the defence sector. Allocation for defence in the interim budget has been increased to Rs 6.21 lakh crores for the financial year 2024-25, from Rs 5.94 lakh crore allocated for the fiscal year 2022-23. The increase is over 4.5 per cent from last year.
Healthcare cover under Ayushman Bharat scheme will be extended to all ASHA workers, Anganwadi Workers and Helpers. A very significant plane for a country where early marriages, and hence premature exposure to sec for girls is rampant has been addressed for the first time in the project for vaccination of 9-14 year-old girls for cervical cancer. Various strains of the human papillomavirus, also called HPV, play a role in causing most cervical cancers. Over the years, this has become a major concern.
The government plans to set up more medical colleges by utilising existing hospital infrastructure and will set up a committee to examine the matter.
Building on the tripling of the capital expenditure outlay in the past four years, resulting in huge multiplier impact on economic growth and employment creation, the outlay for the next year is being increased by 11.1 per cent to Rs 11,11,111 crore. This would be 3.4 per cent of the GDP, said Sitharaman.
An ambitious mission to install rooftop solar plants in for 10 million households all over the country has been planned too. India has a crushing international debt burden due to energy resources imports. . This initiative aims not only to alleviate the burden of electricity expenses on the poor and middle class but also to bolster India’s energy self-reliance. However, the people one general dies not seem to realise the gains from such a project.
The central government’s National Rooftop Phase II grid-connected programme related to solar energy is already running. Many state governments are also giving their own subsidies to this scheme. However, even then, the scheme has failed to attract the common people in states like Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh (MP).
REC Ltd, designated as the agency to implement the programme, has approved approximately Rs 15,000 crore for eight central public sector undertakings to facilitate the installation of rooftop solar projects. With a commitment to lend up to Rs 1.2 lakh crore, REC aims to catalyse the deployment of 10 million rooftop projects across the country. While initial efforts have begun in states such as UP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and MP, the lack of public enthusiasm remains a significant hurdle.
Experts, though, say that instead of boosting funding for private research, which is largely profit driven, the Centre should have focused on funding research in public universities and agencies.
“They are not providing enough public funding for research in universities. Yet, the government plans to inject money into the private sector,” said C P Rajendran, adjunct professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.
“The number of universities has gone up, but the budget has not kept up,” he added. Sitharaman, in her speech, said that the Centre, in recent years, has set up seven new branches of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), 16 of Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIT), seven of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), 15 new All India Institute of Medical Sciences institutions (AIIMS) and 390 universities.
“Budget allocation for basic research has been going down. The number of research fellowships has been curtailed. Still, no announcement was made for boosting funding for research in universities and research institutions,” said Dhrubajyoti Mukherjee, president of Kolkata-based non-profit Breakthrough Science Society. “It looks like they are more interested in innovation in corporate companies. It reflects on the outlook of the government,” he added.
Rajendran said the announcement might be to incentivise the private sector to enter public research, citing the government’s plan to involve the private sector in funding the National Research Foundation (NRF). Of the Rs 50,000 crore set aside for NRF between 2023 and 2028, Rs 36,000 crore is expected to come from the private sector. “In the long run, the government wants to step back from funding research and expects the private sector to take the lead,” he added.
Rajendran and Mukherjee both expressed apprehensions that the private sector might prioritise translational research over basic research, potentially undermining scientific exploration.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has faced a budget cut this year with the Centre reducing its grant by over 60% while the allocation for Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) has been slashed for the second consecutive year.
The budget for school education has been increased by over ₹500 crore but the grant for higher education has been reduced by over ₹9600 crore from the previous fiscal year's Revised Estimate (RE).
In the interim budget for 2024-25 announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday, the funding for UGC has been brought down to ₹2500 crore from the previous year's RE of ₹6409 crore, a 60.99 per cent drop.
The measures announced this year are, expectedly, aimed at creation a pro-poor, pro- smaller industries image that a government needs in an election year, and Sitaraman had tried to deliver just that.