With the BJP-led government in the state gearing up to present its first budget towards the end of this month, all eyes are on Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar.
Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar
The minister has been busy holding talks with various interest groups, and just before mid-day met him on Friday evening, he was meeting members from the bakery lobby and Sales Tax Commissioner Rajeev Jalota.
The adjacent cabin was filled with MLAs and MPs, who all wanted their constituencies to get a slice of the state budget pie. In a freewheeling chat with Varun Singh, Mungantiwar spoke of the government’s priorities and indicated that the budget was going to be a populist one.
He spoke of the Chhatrapati Shivaji statue being important to the government and went to the extent of saying that the state’s fund allocation for the police department could be brought down by Rs 3,000 crore if every citizen followed the Maratha king’s ideology.
And, in a statement that will have the opposition worried, Mungantiwar also spoke of coming out with a white paper on the budgets presented in the last 10 years. Excerpts:
Q. This is the first budget of the BJP, what’s going to be special about it?
A. The budget will deal with important issues. The people have voted for us not because they like our faces, but to see us work and fulfil their dreams. There are many policies, which require more money, but the satisfaction level among the general populace is less, and there are many projects, which have less budgetary provision, but the satisfaction level is high. We will focus on the latter. I have written to the various state heads, chief ministers and others asking them to give their suggestions on what they think will help us take this state forward, so that their ideas can also be incorporated in the budget.
Q. So, have you also written to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray?
A. (Turns around to confirm with his personal assistant, who says yes). We are sending out letters in blocks, so the letters are going to all party heads, to top industrialists and everyone.
Q. What are the main things that the budget will focus on?
A. There are three important things that we will be focusing on. The first is the primary services, which include irrigation and good roads, which we want to provide to the people. The second thing is employment, which will need special attention, and then comes social security. There shouldn’t be any community that does not benefit from development and, hence, social security is of utmost importance for us. There will be policies which will focus on development.
Q. Agriculture is always an important factor in the budget. Anything specific you have in mind for the sector?
A. I am visiting Madhya Pradesh, because their agricultural growth is 24 per cent, which is the highest in Asia. The trip should give me additional insights into what should be incorporated in the budget for agricultural growth. I agree that the contribution of agriculture to the GDP isn’t that much, but it contributes a lot to employment. The total number of people employed in the state is 4.83 crore and, of this, 2.63 crore jobs are generated through agriculture. Agriculture is important because it has the ability to satisfy everyone’s hunger.
Q. But the farmer is dying, he isn’t getting much from the state.
A. We are coming up with policies that are farmer-friendly. We suffered a loss of nearly R791 crore when we did away with purchase tax on sugar cane, but then we realised that if the crop stays on the field and is not sold or purchased, we will suffer a loss of R10,000 crore and sugar production will also be affected. Similarly, for elderly farmers, we have a pension scheme.
Q. The BJP had proposed pension for single women in its vision document. What’s going to happen to that?
A. The vision document is for five years and we are looking into the matter. We will include all these issues.
Q.Many policies are made, but then they never get implemented...
A. That is the reason I have decided to come up with a white paper, which will give us a clear indication of the path we are on and where wrong.
Q. White paper on what, and if it’s on budgets, then for how many years? Will you consider the budgets of the past 15 years?
A. The white paper will be related to the finance department and it’s not necessary to go through the budgets presented in the past 15 years. Even the budgets presented in the last 10 years should be sufficient to give me an idea of where we went wrong.
Q.What will the white paper focus on?
A. The white paper will focus on the money spent. Our planning is based on expenditure and we want it to be output-based. Money has been spent, but what has it generated, what has the state got? Has any employment been generated, or has only a ‘group’ benefited from it? Because, we have been spending money, but there has been no benefit. There are many projects in which more money has been spent than was expected. The expense is not legitimate, and there was no planning. After the white paper is presented, we will come to know where we went wrong and how it can be corrected. Through the white paper, we will come to know whether the previous budgets have helped the state’s development or not.
Q.Many schemes were launched by the previous government. Will all of them continue?
A. We have decided that we will revisit the 1,256 schemes, like those for diesel pumps or blanket distribution. In places where the schemes aren’t that beneficial, we will take a re-look at them and increase the funds for schemes that are important.
Q. Have you asked for financial assistance from the central government on the proposed Shivaji statue in the Arabian Sea and the B R Ambedkar memorial in Indu Mill?
A. This is not just an issue of faith. I think the inspiration derived from these memorials cannot be calculated in terms of money. Our desire is that both of them should be finished in our tenure and, for this, we have asked for certain assistance from the central government.
Q. Will there be provisions for the Shivaji statue in the state budget?
A. Funds can be allocated for the statue within a minute. This is Shivaji Maharaj’s state and it runs on his blessings, so allocation of budget for the statue is not a big issue. But, what good will allocation do if the funds are not used? We want all the permissions to be in place and then we can give the funds. I will read it in the budget, but let me tell you, when the work is for Shivaji Maharaj, the funds can be allocated within a day from the contingency fund.
Q. So, the Shivaji statue is a priority for the government?
A. The issue is not of money, but about society getting inspired by Shivaji’s ideology. When even one person implements his ideology, for me the value of that is more than R1,000 crore. Today, we have to spend Rs 15,000 crore on the police department, but if everyone starts following the ideology of Shivaji Maharaj and becomes an ideal citizen, my allocation in the budget can come down by R3,000 crore.
Q. Isn’t that too idealistic?
A. It’s not idealistic, this is the reality. Suppose some goons are following a woman and someone shouts out the slogan ‘Jai Chhatrapati’ and comes to her rescue. Isn’t he doing the work of the police? This happens. People have given up their life to do what’s right, there is a long list, and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done it. Even he is made of the ideology of Chhatrapati.
Q. You had said that SGNP could be a major tourist attraction. Are you doing something for this in the budget?
A. We are appointing consultants for all the four sanctuaries in the state and all this work will be done within my tenure. When families return happy from these places, our growth also increases.
Q. Is everything well between you and CM Devendra Fadanvis? Many top leaders have complained about him.
A. I have faced no issues with the CM. We are not working as individuals, but as Team Maharashtra. The trust that the public has reposed is not in us, but in the BJP. Our aim is to fulfil the wishes of our prime minister, who follows Deendayal Upadhyayji. We are all working together, no one comes in anyone’s way and the party and the CM have given everyone full freedom to run their departments the way they see fit.