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Not just money matters in state Budget 2020-21

Updated on: 02 March,2020 07:36 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dharmendra Jore |

This being the Maha Vikas Aghadi's first Budget, and with BJP sharpening its claws as Opposition, fireworks seem par for the course

Not just money matters in state Budget 2020-21

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray

picWhat does state Finance Minister Ajit Pawar have in store for us in the 2020-21 Maharashtra Budget slated for March 6? Will the budget be any different from its previous populist avatars? Will it have financial sops and welfare announcements for the vote blocs relevant to the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) partners? Will it also selectively tax people — consumers of alcoholic beverages and patrons of luxury services? The possibilities are endless because Pawar will be struggling to balance realistic revenue targets with ever-increasing expenditure. The budget is likely to consolidate a sense of what the MVA leaders have built in the past two months — that of the previous BJP regime making a mess of the state's finances by raising a massive debt over big-ticket projects and other things.

So, it should be interesting to see how Pawar articulates the budget statement and crafts the MVA's vision for the future when the alliance's united strength is brought under threat by the BJP that bullies the Shiv Sena over its earlier shared ideology. While the Sena faced attacks over its alleged ideological shift in the first week of the budget session, the BJP also raised the agrarian issue which the MVA defused by launching the loan waiver on the very first day. On Saturday, the second list of 22 lakh farmers followed a pilot list on February 24. The government said farm bank accounts on the second list would start receiving the money from Monday itself as it had eliminated the 'difficulties created by the previous government'.

The MVA had also made a provision for the waiver through the supplementary demand of Rs 15,000 crore in the first week. The budget to be presented later this week should see the impact of this and the additional allocation that the government must make. Pawar, who has helmed the energy department, has opposed energy minister and senior Congress leader Nitin Raut's proposal to cut tariffs of low-end electricity consumers of a state-run company. Pawar understands well the financial impact and regulatory complications involved in making the sop reality.

Whatever good or bad the budget may spring, we should expect the opposition to summarily criticise the MVA that has rolled back many a decision of the BJP government, and continued with big-ticket projects, which if stalled, could invite public ire. But the amendments made to these projects' financial and structural designs, like in the case of Metro-3, are expected to extend the deadlines and cause cost escalations that will again be adjusted through more debt. Expect a blame game on the floor of the house. We also understand that a demand for publishing a white-paper on the BJP's financial management would be raised by the ruling parties (the FM may himself make an announcement to this effect in the budget statement). The BJP wants the white-paper to compare its five years with the Congress-NCP's 15 years to prove that it was better at fiscal management.

The weekend will see more unfold on the state's much-debated financial health and its recovery, and measures to prompt growth against a national and global slowdown. Amid speculations over its longevity, the MVA has so far stood up against the adverse both inside and outside the house. Some cracks remain to be plugged, however.

The Sena took a beating initially, yet scored some points over the BJP that has finally decided to play a strong Opposition. But, the BJP also faces disenchantment in its ranks. BJP's state leaders, who were cut loose after losing power, have their respective factions pitted against each other. Rumours of ex-CM Devendra Fadnavis being sent to the Rajya Sabha later this month have aspirants enthused. Fadnavis's denial of the news hasn't worked yet in uniting the party.

The BJP seniors who were ministers in the previous government and legislators who made the BJP their new home just before the Assembly elections are seen distraught and lost in the corridors of Vidhan Bhavan. The leaders, especially former ministers, can only dream of the party returning to power even as the ruling parties threaten time and again to dig up their past. At this point, the BJP seems as complicated as a wealthy family in which multiple heirs stake claim to the ancestral property. The MVA appears like a marriage where there is a permanent third partner who threatens an unconventional alliance.

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