Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will present the Centre's budget for the year 2012-13 at a time when economic growth has nosedived to 6.1 per cent from a high of 9.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2010-2011. This year's budget, to be presented after the election results of the five poll-bound states are announced, happens to mark 20 years of economic liberalisation.
It was in 1991-92 that the Congress government initiated structural economic reforms on the directions of IMF. At that time, Down To Earth had invited prominent economists to do some crystal-gazing and foretell how the India's economic future would unfold. The prognosis was grim. Anil Agarwal, founder director of Centre for Science and Environment, predicted that the pressure to generate foreign exchange would impact India’s land and forests. Others, including former revenue secretary D Bandopadhyay, said austerity measures and subsidy cuts on agriculture and social welfare would increase marginalisation of the vulnerable groups and force them to exploit the environment aggressively. Veena Mazumdar, director of Centre for Women's Development Studies, said liberalisation would increase child mortality incidence.
Their words proved to be prophetic. Successive governments, whether it be the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government or the Congress-led UPA government, failed to strike the necessary balance between urban areas and rural areas and between environmental conservation and economic development. The Congress which returned to power in 2004 along with its UPA allies by debunking NDA’s ‘India shining’ claims, earmarked agriculture, water and rural development as its priority areas in its maiden budget. It introduced a number of flagship programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the National Rural Health Mission. But these have failed to alleviate rural poverty and check malnutrition and infant mortality; maternal mortality continues to be high. The impact of GDP-driven economy on the environment and forest resources is only too obvious.
The economic recession in the West and rising food inflation made the world realise the hazards of integration of global economies and how vulnerable it makes developing countries to external collapses. Given the situation, will the finance minister announce more bailouts for the sagging industry as was done for Kingfisher airlines or will he announce packages to stimulate agriculture growth and rural development? Will environment and ecology become the casualty of growth needs and fiscal prudence? Here's what some experts have to say about India's budget-making process and their expectations from the new budget for the year 2012-13.
Read more: Run up to budget 2012-13
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