According to the latest annual list of world’s billionaires, published by Forbes magazine, India has 55 billionaires, with a total net worth of $189.1 billion. India has experienced a profound shift of income distribution from the poor and the middle class to the rich in the past 30 years, yet fiscal adjustments are dominated by sharp cuts in public services and reductions in corporate tax rates. Why should the social sector pay the price if the government intends to boost the wealth of billionaires?
IN 1997, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram presented a dream Budget, but this year he presented a nightmare Budget, one that will neither promote growth nor alleviate poverty. He simply presented a statement of estimated receipts and payments. He seems to be suffering from a bankruptcy of ideas.
The salaried sections were expecting some relief in income tax through a substantial increase in the exemption limit. Not raising it is equivalent to reducing it when one takes into consideration how the cost of living has risen in one year. Not restoring the standard deduction is an injustice to the salaried class when businessmen are permitted to deduct business expenses from their taxable income. To mobilise resources and to avoid selling out public sector undertakings, the Finance Minister should have announced an amnesty scheme to induce those with unaccounted money abroad to bring it back into the country. This Budget was only the juggling of numbers.
S. Raghunatha Prabhu
THE Finance Minister’s juggling with numbers to show a lower fiscal deficit is nothing but an attempt to deceive the public. The meagre increases or rather status quo in the Budget allotments for education, skills development, agriculture and food subsidies are definitely going to hit the people hard. His decision to increase the amount of baggage gold allowed is not going to help the current account deficit.
The grim economic situation called for tough and unambiguous measures. The attitude of the Minister towards women, Dalits and other marginalised sections is condescending. A change in attitude as well as policies is needed.
THE Budget was neither populist, as was expected, nor pragmatic. Although the Finance Minister has allocated funds for women’s banks, scholarships for the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the minorities, he could have done something more for the salaried class.
The proposal to set up a “Nirbhaya Fund” to ensure the safety of women, extending the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana to include rickshaw pullers, autorickshaw drivers, taxi drivers, sanitation workers, ragpickers and mine workers is a step in the right direction. The amounts allocated for the handloom and textile sectors will encourage weavers and textile manufacturers.
Chidambaram has tried to present a balanced budget, and one hopes that India sees some growth in 2013-14.
THE Finance Minister proposed quite a few measures that will hopefully improve the state of the economy. For example, he announced an investment allowance to boost the manufacturing sector. He also announced some steps that will help the common man, for example, the proposal to set up a Nirbhaya Fund, the suggestion that a national skill development corporation be set up to train the youth, increasing the number of groups that can avail themselves of the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana scheme, and the proposal to open India’s first women’s bank. In view of the huge fiscal deficit, his move to rationalise government expenditure will help augment growth. The economic situation is worrisome. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-II government has just about a year to prove its merit, and it should without any further delay swing into action to control the fiscal deficit.
IN 1991 when there was an economic crisis, India resorted to a reversal of the economic policy followed until then (“No respite from the crisis”, March 22). Now does it need another reversal?
THE impending Lok Sabha elections had its impact on the Union Budget, which did not do anything to deal with basic issues such as price rise and unemployment. The issues haunting the lives of the “aam aadmi” are of no concern to the Finance Minister. The frequent increases in the prices of petroleum products and the reduction in energy and fertilizer subsidies have in turn led to the rise in prices of essential commodities.
It is in this context that the two-day strike in February by workers and employees of the organised sector should be evaluated. Nearly all trade unions, including the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), affiliated to the Congress, participated. The demands raised included those of unorganised sector workers.
The Union government is doing everything for corporates but is reluctant to do something for the poor.
The demands of the trade unions are entirely justified. Instead of addressing these pressing issues, the government is making grand moves towards privatisation of important sectors such as banking and insurance and pushing for foreign direct investment in retail sector. Under these circumstances, the united action of the major trade unions deserves to be welcomed. It was heartening to see that even the Congress-affiliated INTUC joined hands with the Left in the fight for the welfare of the working classes.
J. Anantha Padmanabhan
Srirangam, Tamil Nadu
THE simple belief is that a holy dip in the sangam will wash away all sins (“The mother of all melas”, March 22). The practice has come down from time immemorial and cannot be termed blind devotion. All pilgrims have one thing in common: total surrender to their Lord, a characteristic seen among Haj pilgrims, too.
The Maha Kumbh culture needs to be preserved and propagated among non-Hindus. The wish to lead a sinless life is the most common and most powerful prayer of all communities of all religions.
Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh
NAMDEO DHASAL is not just a poet but a phenomenon of our times (“Songs from the underworld”, March 22). Dhasal not only shocks us but provokes us into recognising elemental truths of compassion and (coexisting with) contempt, in his very own rare idiom. It is not just Baudelaire, but Gogol, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Neitzsche, Kafka, Camus, Sadat Hasan Manto and others, whose company Dhasal keeps on his own terms. The article was a fitting tribute.
H. Pattabhirama Somayaji
RECENTLY, former President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives was arrested and freed after a day, and his trial has been put off by four weeks (“In a mess in Male”, March 22). His release is a window of opportunity for democracy in the Maldives. India was right in giving Nasheed refuge in its embassy in Male in February. However, it is a difficult situation for India as it has unnecessarily been dragged into the politics of the Maldives. The Maldivian judiciary should not debar Nasheed from contesting the presidential election as he was the country’s first elected President.
Deendayal M. Lulla
I WISH I could understand what message Frontline wanted to convey by lionising Afzal Guru (Cover Story, March 8). I do not approve of his execution. But I do not see any justification in projecting him as a hero. I cannot forget that he was a separatist and approved of separatist terrorism.
I do not think any sensible Indian can countenance Kashmiri separatism, if only because the separation of Kashmir from India, whether as a part of Pakistan or as an “independent” state, would be suicidal to India in more ways than one. For one thing, such a separation would mean the death of secularism. I cannot think of letting the Kashmiris, including non-Muslims, be ruled by the ideology that rules Pakistan and the Kashmir separatists.
Also, Pakistan would never allow Kashmir to remain independent. Secondly, the bloodbath that would ensue in the event of Kashmir’s separation is more than I can even think of.
J. Kottukapally, S.J.
IN its zeal to defend the abolition of capital punishment, the article “Colonial Legacy” (Cover Story, March 8) has sadly overlooked the trauma of the families of the victims of terrorist attacks. The remark that there is no principle underpinning the death penalty in India today except vengeance seeks to both question and challenge the wisdom of the learned judges of the apex court. The Indian Evidence Act gives due prominence to circumstantial evidence, which plays a vital role in deciding the fate of any case.
In the instant case, the judges had pronounced their verdict on the basis of the available circumstantial evidence, which pointed to Afzal Guru’s involvement in the heinous crime. The acquittal of S.A.R. Geelani emphasises the fact that the entire process was in accordance with the law and was not a personal vendetta. It is pertinent to mention here that the Supreme Court in its 1983 judgment stated that hanging did not involve torture, barbarity, humiliation or degradation.
Afzal Guru committed the unpardonable crime of waging war against the Indian state and its citizens, which rightly attracted the rarest of rare punishments.
At a time when zero tolerance needs to be adopted in dealing with terrorists of all hues, requesting clemency for terrorists only amounts to playing into the hands of the nation’s enemies.
B. Suresh Kumar
Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
IN the Suryanelli case, the victim identified the then Minister, P.J. Kurien, from a photograph (“A rehearing in Kerala”, March 8). It would have been better if those supporting him had said they were ready to face any fresh inquiry. I feel that not allowing one is proof enough that he is not innocent.
ALTHOUGH Kurien claims that he is innocent as he was cleared by the highest court of the land “legally and morally”, probity demands that he quit in view of the fact that he is the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Also, in the aftermath of the December 16 Delhi gang-rape-cum-murder, his case has become more vulnerable, a fact he should keep in mind. It is unfortunate the Congress is defending him. It is lamentable that the 17-year-old case is still unresolved.
LIKE many other ideologists, Frontline, too, tried its best to portray Swami Vivekananda as a socialist (“Remembering Vivekananda”, February 8). It is true that Vivekananda preferred making asylums and filling empty stomachs to building big temples and worshipping idols. But along with it, he was a true nationalist. He was proud of the rich and varied heritage of the nation. He was an ardent supporter of Vedanta. He took India’s legacy around the world and taught people that India could give more than it took.