A Budget for the Masses

India has had a rocky economic history, to say the least. Throughout the years, it has managed to adapt itself to the changing time and ethos. In the beginning, the newly born nation-state was trying to manoeuvre its way around the anvils of Nehru Socialism with considerable negotiations and hiccups. By 1991, it had broken through that chasm and thrown its economy open to the world to invest in. This was the third phase of Indian economic dealings.
Architect of India’s Dream Budget; Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Architect of India’s Dream Budget; Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

After the globalisation of 1991, the Indian economy had been thrown to foreign powers to indulge in. Many of the companies we see now such as Coca-Cola, Audi, Sony etc. came in as a result of that policy. However, there was an increasing need felt to address the people and the masses and the policy framed by Palaniappan Chidambaram did exactly that. Many called it the Dream Budget and the Aam Aadmi Budget.

The Budget announced under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P.Chidambaram made a very targeted effort to mobilise rural Indians and strengthen the knots of democracy in the country. This was in its sense the first reform-oriented budget. While it facilitated lower corporate tax and customs duty it announced two policies that still help the nation on two very important fronts - helping its under-resourced and underprivileged masses and bringing in more transparency in a working liberal democracy. These two policies were Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA) and the Right to Information (RTI).

The MNREGA scheme assured a minimum of a hundred days of employment to all unemployed people. Its main objective was “enhancing livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year, to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work”. MNREGA made employment a legal entitlement. In addition to this, the secondary objective of MNREGA was to create a number of durable and tangible assets mostly in the lines of roads, canals and wells.

Most of the time, it has been observed that a policy might look very shiny on paper but is a lot more sketchy when it comes to implementation. Fortunately, MNREGA was not plagued by this disease. It was beautifully implemented in the grassroots by the involvement of the gram panchayats. The implementation was a success because any involvement of a third party contractor which would usually be a breeding ground for corruption and syphoning off funds were banned.

The second landmark change that was brought in by this Budget was the Right to Information Act. Under this Act, a citizen of India could expect full transparency from public authorities, bodies of government and instruments of state. On an enquiry, these bodies were required to reply expeditiously within thirty days of the filing of the petition. The far-reaching popular appeal of this Act can be seen when data are corroborated. Every day around 4800 RTI applications is filed.

It is clear from the arguments presented above that the Dream Budget of 2005 was actually a dream of the underserved massed and liberal democracy that India answered to. To this date, thousands of people line up for the MNREGA scheme. As a result of the Right to Information Act, there was greater transparency between the people and the working of the government. It is because of this policy that the much-awaited files on the death of Netaji were declassified and the nation came to know the truth about one of its forgotten heroes. Thus the shakings and trembles of this landmark budget are still felt to this date.


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