Changing times and values: Fable of the Budget by Two FMs

New Delhi,: Things change and often they remain constant too.
Two women Finance Ministers Indira Gandhi and Nirmala Sitharaman in their respective Budget speeches – 48 years apart – dwell on a few common issues laying emphasis on some key words and ‘values’ – but some things have changed and these only show that the country has moved forward.
In her 1970-71 speech, Late Indira Gandhi had said – to the majority of people, value is still associated with ‘wealth’ but hastened to add that ‘present day (1970s) politicians have made it superficial’.
In the Budget speech of 2019-20, the word ‘value’ does appear repeatedly but the context is different.
In para 37 of her speech, the incumbent FM Ms Sitharaman says: “It is high time India not only gets integrated into global Value Chain of production of goods and services, but also become part of the global financial system’.
In another part, she says: “We will support private entrepreneurships in driving value-addition to farmers’ produce from the field”.
In yet another context underpinning socio political transition vis-a-vis empowerment of women, Ms Sitharaman says: “In India’s growth story, particularly in the rural economy, “grameen arth vyavastha” the role of women is a very sweet story. This government wishes to encourage and facilitate this role of women”.
In her Budget Speech in February 1970,, Indira Gandhi had stated, “It is generally accepted that social, economic and political stability is not possible without the growth of productive forces and the augmentation of national wealth. Also, that such growth and increase in wealth cannot be sustained without due regard to the welfare of the weaker sections of the community”.
In reference to taxes as well things have changed apparently but there are indirect parallelism as well.
“Taxation is also a major instrument in all-modern societies to achieve greater equality of incomes and wealth. It is, therefore, proposed to make our direct tax system serve this purpose by increasing income taxation at the higher levels as well as by substantially enhancing the present rates of taxation on wealth and gifts,’ Indira Gandhi had said.
In 2019, Ms Sitharaman has also stumped the moneyed and the rich as she underlines: ‘In view of rising income levels, those in the highest income brackets, need to contribute more to the nation’s development. I, therefore, propose to enhance surcharge on individuals having taxable income from Rupees 2 crore to 5 crore and 5 crore and above so that effective tax rates for these two categories will increase by around 3 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.’
For her part, Indira Gandhi had said – “The duty on cigarettes is being enhanced with the increase ranging from 3 per cent to 22 per cent ad valorem depending on the value slabs”.
In 2019-20, Ms Sitharaman speaks about her proposal to increase the custom duty on gold and other precious metals from 10 per cent to 12.5 per cent and also that there will be basic excise duty on tobacco products and crude as the National Calamity and Contingent duty for these have been contested on the ground that there is no basic excise duty on these items.
Finally, in terms of handling of the finance portfolio by two women – there have been instances where there are some unique similarities.
Late Morarji Desai had presented eight Union budgets and Indira Gandhi presented just one, in February 1970, but the economic policies of that era are more closely identified with what Indira Gandhi had laid down with her “growth with social justice” budget.
In the more contemporary setting too, within the BJP family, Arun Jaitley presented four budgets, Piyush Goya – one and Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh too presented multiple Budgets. But in all likelihood ‘history’ will remember ‘her story’ (Nirmala Sitharaman’s) not only for doing away briefcase legacy of British raj but also presenting a roadmap that will push India to achieve the height that it ‘richly deserves’.


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