Dear Finance Minister and team, You have a month and a half before you present the annual budget, so here are my humble suggestions. For this massive exercise, do not closet yourselves in the Planning Commission and North Block. Do not go to any fancy retreat where you are entertained by poets and actors for Rest & Recreation.
Turn your privileged attention to our oft-neglected villages. This is where farmers with bumper harvests are setting fire to their paddy crop (West Bengal), driving their tractors over their potato harvest (Punjab), junking their onion crop on highways (Gujarat). Don't give them sops. That is the easy way out. Release land and loan for private investors to build cold storages, streamline supply chains, build roads, and ensure reliable power supply and water for irrigation.
Earnest request: For the 2012-13 budget, let focus be put on the
Spend a day in the home of an urban middle class nuclear family, and stand in queue with a parent for three hours in biting cold weather, to pick up expensive forms for admission to a nursery school. Its gut wrenching to see one's child face rejection at the age of four. Now, give incentives for setting up more schools all over the country.
Spend a day with school kids. Studying through the night even with repeated, lengthy power cuts. Check. Multiple coaching classes (that is, if they can afford this luxury) Check. Come exam day, hit that 95 per cent. Check. Now what? Oh of course, missed by 0.5 per cent. What needs to be done: Allow foreign universities to come in and set up colleges. Hire teachers and open more vocational institutes.
Ask a housewife how she balances her household budget. She manages to save despite all and ensures that the weakest and most vulnerable in her home is taken care of first and nurtured back to health. See that she and her children are safe. Invest in internal security. Spend a day in a primary health care centre in a town or village. A long saking line for drugs with dubious provenances, patients on hard cold floors waiting for treatment is the norm. Health care of our people should be an important priority for the government. Responsibility does not stop at mere allocation of funds but the government should see their actions through. Set up a regulatory body that actually sees to it that work has been done.
Drive into districts where there are no roads, no electricity, no rural banking, and no ration shops. This is where the Indira Awas Yojana and Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Scheme are supposed to work. See why they are not being implemented. There is nobody to implement them. Drive to the District Collector's house in the same zone. See how there are three gardeners, two cooks, two 'helpers' two chauffeurs, and five security guards taking care of Sahib. Priorities?
Spend a day in the home of a retired pensioner who can't get his driver's licence, can't pay his house tax, stamp duty and water bills without bribing someone. Open more seva kendras, more counters for people to pay their taxes, just as you have done with passport services and postal services. Simplify.
Don't go to these places in air-conditioned cars with a 'Tiranga' fluttering in the front and a 'Laal batti' on top. Travel by rickety state transport buses that stop next to a bunch of trees for passengers to relieve themselves, because there are no toilets in the countryside. Women just learn to control their urges.
Don't give depressing statements about slow growth rate. We will figure that out anyway. Don't tell us that hospitals and schools can't be built because of the Euro crisis. You still hosted the 'Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Soiree'.
Not just industry fat-cats, engage with the aam aadmi for a change; they want to know you care for them too, not just the rich. And anyway its not as if industry loves you too much these days. Don't punish states that didn't vote you in and don't give sops only to states that vote you in. People see through all this, and will punish you at the ballot box. Be fair. Or at least appear to be fair. And lastly, don't recite poetry during speeches and soundbites to television channels. Leave that to Laloo Yadav and Yashwant Sinha.
-- A tax-paying Indian
Smita Prakash is Editor (News) at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash