Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the Interim Budget 2024 today, shedding light on government initiatives and future goals with the Lok Sabha elections approaching.
During her speech, she highlighted a "profound transformation" in the Indian economy over the past decade, pointing to a notable "50% increase in average income" as proof of this growth.
However, experts are cautious, urging detailed data analysis to understand how this growth is distributed among different income groups and to address concerns about increasing inequality. Sitharaman also recognized the need for further development in this context.
The minister added that people's earnings have improved, leading to a better quality of life and heightened aspirations for the future. She also mentioned that inflation has been kept in check due to strong macroeconomic stability and robust investments.
The minister spotlighted the Mudra Yojana, a scheme designed to provide loans to small and medium enterprises. She said that an impressive 30 crore loans have been disbursed to women entrepreneurs.
George Alexander Muthoot, MD of Muthoot Finance, commented on this, stating, “The government’s support to MSMEs, women entrepreneurs, and the agricultural sector aligns perfectly with our goal to provide credit support to these groups, addressing their economic needs.”
The theme of empowering women through entrepreneurship, enhancing the ease of living, and preserving dignity has gained substantial momentum over the past decade, highlighted Sitharaman.
Sitharaman noted that a big 28% jump in female students entering higher education in the last ten years. In science and tech courses (STEM), almost half of the students (43%) are now girls, which is one of the highest percentages globally. Ankit Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of Unstop, said, “This connects with how they're getting more opportunities in the private sector.”
Talking about the government's plans, Sitharaman stressed helping "the poor, farmers, youth, and women." While this aligns with the upcoming elections, we still need to see how well these plans work and who they really benefit.
Ankit pointed out, "The budget reflects the government's push for youth upskilling. The Skill India Mission has trained 1.4 crore and re-skilled 54 lakh youth, establishing 3000 new ITIs."
Despite this, the budget sticks to its guns on taxes, proposing no changes to direct and indirect taxes, including export duties, to keep things stable for businesses. On the green front, a new bio-manufacturing and bio-foundry scheme has been introduced. Sanjay Kumar, Partner at Deloitte India, stated, "The focus on renewable energy, the EV ecosystem, bio-manufacturing, and the blue economy will drive sustainability."
The government has a new housing scheme for the middle class, especially those in rented homes or unauthorised colonies, helping them own homes. This initiative addresses a key concern for many families and could have a significant social impact.
Vivek Mittal, Executive Director at Deloitte India, commented, "To achieve Viksit Bharat by 2047, we need strong teamwork between the central and state governments. The recent budget announced a 75,000 crore, 50-year interest-free loan to states – a positive move that could encourage them to make important reforms."
Aastha Dhowan, Partner at N.A. Shah Associates, noted, "Reducing the average processing time for income tax returns from 93 days to just 10 is a clear sign of technology being used innovatively."
Sitharaman, echoing Prime Minister Modi, emphasised that there's "no dearth of opportunities" and highlighted the country's enormous potential. With confidence stemming from a proven track record of progress, she foresaw "unprecedented development" in the next five years.
Sitharaman emphasised the government's commitment to social welfare, citing increased female reservation and housing initiatives. She stated, "Their needs are our top priority," focusing on women's empowerment.
Closing her speech, she restated the ambitious goal of making India a "Vikashit Bharat" (Developed India) by 2047.
Summing up, the Interim Budget 2024 combines continuity with new initiatives, emphasizing economic growth, inclusivity, and social welfare. While these claims merit scrutiny, their timing and focus align with the upcoming elections. According to Sanjay, "Investments in infrastructure, digital public infrastructure, research and innovation, and emerging technologies will catalyse growth and create economic opportunities."
However, the real measure of success hinges on effective execution, ensuring equitable and sustainable development for everyone, not just a select few.