gfiles magazine

April 19, 2011

Chasing the Budget

The Finance Minister seeks the public’s mandate every year
EVERYBODY knows that India goes to the polls every five years. What many people do not realize is that one Minister seeks the public’s mandate every year – the Union Finance Minister! The Prime Minister may be the most important Minister in the Cabinet and for the nation. But it is the Finance Minister who is the most important Minister for the common man.
At least three Ministers share the responsibility for making the annual Budget – the Finance Minister, the Railways Minister and the Home Minister! People may not be concerned with the Finance Minister during the year but he commands the rapt attention of the whole nation at least once every fiscal year – the day he presents the Union Budget.
The Defence Ministry, the Home Ministry and the External Affairs Ministry supposedly rank the highest among all the Ministries in terms of power and importance. But, again, it is the Finance Minister who presents the Budget for them!
There is only one Ministry which is out of bounds for the Finance Minister – the Railways Ministry. The practice of preparing a separate Budget for the Railways is inherited from the British Raj. Faced with the onerous task of connecting the length and breadth of India through a railway network, the then government did not want the railway project to be crippled by budgetary constraints. Hence, a separate Railways Budget was presented.
The basic purpose of presenting a separate Railway Budget was achieved long ago. Yet the practice continues to this day. The contention is that rail freight and fare touch everybody’s life in some way or the other. If that is so, the Petroleum Minister should also present a separate budget because movement of passengers and goods by road also affects everyone. And modes of road transport use petroleum products for fuel. Even the Railways use diesel to some extent.
When members are elected to the Lok Sabha, they are elected to the national legislature. They become representative of the nation. But few Railways Ministers realize this. Many of them fail to look beyond their constituencies, their States and their regions. During the Budget session, the main job of the Railways Minister is to present the Rail Budget. But most Railways Ministers end up announcing new trains, many of which either originate from and terminate at the Minister’s constituency or pass through it even if they have to take a circuitous route.
Today, corporate lobbyists manage to influence government decisions. But the captains of industry have influenced the Union Budget for a long time.

Ministers announce new trains, originating from and terminating at or passing through their constituencies even if circuitously.

In view of the numerous scams that are tumbling out of the closet one after another, someone was keen to know whether there would be a separate allocation for scams in this Budget. “Since scams seem to have become a necessary evil for growth, we might as well make a provision for scams in the Budget,” commented another wag.
The roles of the Finance Minister and the Railways Minister in the annual Budget are well known but where does the Home Minister come in? Well, the Home Minister under reference is not the Union Home Minister. This Home Minister may be an NGO (Non- Government Officer). “Home Minister” is a common nickname for the housewife. She is the one who bears the brunt of the Budget and has to prepare a corresponding budget for her home.
Financial experts may roll out their views, analyses and comments on the Budget but the one who really faces the heat of the Budget is this “Home Minister”. Asked to comment on the current Budget, one housewife remarked: “The whole idea of making a budget is to make both ends meet. The crux of a budget is to match the income with expenses. With unfettered price rise, the only end that is visible to me is the income. I have to track down the other end before I can make both ends meet!”

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