New Delhi, January 25: Marginal farmers, farm workers, unorganised urban labour, young people in search of jobs, women and senior citizens should expect a slew of sops and incentives in the next two months with the government readying to make several announcements, including those about income support schemes and job reservation in the private sector, ahead of the summer’s Lok Sabha polls, four government officials across ministries said on condition of anonymity.
The announcements could even come ahead of the interim budget on February 1, although some could come after the budget session of Parliament, which begins on January 30 and ends on February 13. The Election Commission will likely make an announcement on the Lok Sabha elections in the first week of March.
Some of the announcements, meant for the underprivileged class that are under tremendous stress, will be implemented immediately, the officials added. These include schemes aimed at marginal farmers and farm workers. Others may take some time as they will require public consultations and legislation, the officials, who work in three different ministries, said.
HT has previously reported on a proposed direct benefit transfer of input assistance to marginal farmers. A quota in private sector jobs is also under consideration after the government successfully implemented 10% quota in government jobs and public and private educational institutions for the economically weaker sections (EWS) through a legislation earlier this month, one of the officials said.
There have been some “high-level” meetings on job reservation in the private sector because there are fewer government and public sector jobs, this official added. This idea was first discussed by the Manmohan Singh government in 2006, and strongly opposed by the industry which promised to do more voluntarily. Those efforts have been inadequate, the first official said.
In addition to these new schemes and sops – a sort of push in the home-stretch ahead of the elections, according to analysts – the government also plans to highlight all schemes and initiatives it has launched since May 2014 to the electorate ahead of polls and also ask all Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states to showcase the achievements of the Modi government, people who are aware of the government’s poll publicity strategy said on condition of anonymity.
“In fact, the preparation for the general election started with a big bang when the government announced the Ayushman Bharat health insurance scheme in September last year,” said one of the officials, a strategic advisor of a Cabinet minister.
The Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), earlier known as Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission, provides medical insurance coverage of up to Rs 5 lakh per annum per family to identified poor and vulnerable families for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation. Although a Rs 2,000 crore fund is allocated for the scheme in the current financial year, the government may increase the budget to expand the scheme’s coverage, a second government official said.
A third official said the government has targeted its key constituencies over the past few months with special schemes and sops. For instance, this person pointed out, the goods and services tax (GST) on TV sets, cinema tickets and video games was reduced in December. And a subsequent GST Council meeting in January made several changes in GST rules to ease the burden of compliance on small and medium businesses, a key vote bank of the BJP. Experts are divided on whether the government will be able to implement all schemes it wants to because of financial constraints. “Where is the money to implement new schemes? At best these [announcements] would be promises,” Pronab Sen, economist and former chief statistician of India, said.
The government has a target to tame the fiscal deficit at 3.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018-19 as compared to 3.5% in 2017-18. According to latest official data, the country’s fiscal deficit in April-November 2018 already exceeded Rs 92,349 crore, about 15% more than the budget estimate of Rs 6,24,276 crore for the current financial year.
PwC India leader, public finance & economics, Ranen Banerjee, said: “Fiscal position may not be impacted if schemes are only announced, as actual implementation would happen in the next financial year.” (Courtesy: HT)