Nirmal runs an electronics repair shop in Delhi. A migrant from Jharkhand, he wanted the Union Budget to deliver better education for his children, more low-cost housing and better access to loans for small businessmen like him. In a remote Uttarakhand village, Abhey Kumar is the only doctor and that too without an MBBS degree. His Budget wish was a medical college.
A group of students at a street corner in Mumbai wanted the Finance Minister to do something for the poor, but without burdening the middle class. These snapshots of disparate demands, gleaned from some channel surfing on Budget eve, suggest that people still think of the Budget as a magic wand that can solve all their economic problems.
This imagery of the Budget throws us back to the times when Budget Day was a day of collective mortification: When cigarette vendors made a packet by attaching a speculative premium on popular brands, when car owners queued before petrol pumps to fill their tanks before midnight, when the captains of industry assembled tax consultants to estimate the potential damage to their fortunes; when refrigerators were taxed as "luxury goods" and talcum powder attracted a 105 per cent excise duty.
Thankfully, none of this happens any more on the last working day of February, but the impression of the Budget being a Pandora's Box lingers.
That said, Budget 2010 is, indeed, an historic one, and not because of what Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in his speech. This year's Budget had the unusual confluence of three forces powering it: The report of the 13th Finance Commission, the impending introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the in-the-making Direct Tax Code.
Collectively, these three factors hold a much larger sway over the economic destiny of Indians than a Budget or two. These reports are like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that must be placed together with the Budget 2010 to complete the picture. This is exactly what we have attempted to do in our cover package. Don't miss the Budget speech for the year 2014.
Budgets are only a means, the end being development of the country. In this issue, we showcase many such end results. Our special feature captures the tales of a clutch of businesses exclusively serving the bottom of the pyramid. Then check out the extent of private interest and investment in water. And we tell you how it took motivation, money and a bit of miracle to make Palakkad India's first 100 per cent electrified district.