A constant drone emanates from the first floor of the two-storeyed Vidhan Bhawan on Patna's Sachivalaya Road, where the budget session of the Bihar assembly is underway. It's more or less a full house even though budget presentation is long over. The calming influence that Nitish Kumar's rule has had on life in the state is in evidence in the assembly too, where his JD(U)-BJP government has an overwhelming majority in the 243-member House.
Finance Minister Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP, who is also the Deputy Chief Minister of the state by virtue of the power-sharing agreement between the BJP and JD(U), leaves the House around noon, and heads to his chamber on the second floor to catch Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee presenting his sixth Union Budget in Parliament. Modi had presented his seventh budget four days earlier.
|We were expecting relief in the Budget for our drought and fl oodaffected areas.... They (the UPA government) have offered grants to educational institutions in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal which are going to elections soon.|
"I'm a fan of Pranab-da," Modi announces to this writer with a smile as he enters the chamber. He says he especially likes his "integrity and intellect". He talks even as he surfs channels on the ancient TV in his office to get to the budget telecast. "Pranab-da is a sharp and intelligent politician."
Once in his official chair, the political Modi - the National Democratic Alliance, of which BJP is a part, is the main opposition in Parliament - cuts the pleasantries short. "Not much is being done to contain inflation and corruption and generate employment," he says while looking for useful budget comments in scraps of paper slipped to him by his staff.
"There is just marginal relief to the common man from income tax," the 59-year-old politician says, visibly struggling to find more loopholes. He takes a timeout to check his iPad and the analyses on various channels before firming up his own views.
"There is nothing concrete in the budget to tackle the menace of corruption," he says tentatively. In between his comments, he turns to his BlackBerry to check mails, and attends to colleagues who drop by every now and then.
"Bihar has been ignored once again in the budget," a visitor seemingly taunts Modi before leaving the chamber. Modi refuses to take the bait and instead explains: "We were expecting relief in the budget for our drought and flood-affected areas."
But the comment does touch a raw nerve - this third-most populous state has a running feud with the Congress-led UPA government. "They have offered grants to educational institutions in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal which are going to elections soon," points out Modi.
|"The biggest worry as a state fi nance minister is coughing up the state's contribution, which ranges from 15 to 25 per cent of the outlay of schemes. You have to have money in the coffers to take advantage of central schemes."|
Ask this science graduate about the art of making a good budget that safeguards the interest of all stakeholders and pat comes the reply: "You require a little bit of common sense and a lot of sincerity." Surprisingly, Modi lauds Mukherjee for proposing direct cash transfers to the targeted beneficiaries of kerosene, LPG and fertiliser subsidies.
"We have been suggesting direct cash transfers for a long time," he says. In fact, Bihar successfully implemented the Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana way back in 2006 by giving Rs 2,000 directly to school students to buy bicycles.
When you goad him for his comments on the proposals on agriculture, Modi says the interest rate subsidy should be extended to fisheries and poultry and dairy units. "These sectors end up paying a 12 per cent interest rate," says Modi. He attributes the ability to control food inflation to the delay in banning exports of items like onions and milk powder.
By now, the budget papers have arrived in Modi's chamber and he starts to furiously flip through them. "The budget offers peanuts to the nation," he sums up after a few minutes, the tone now decidedly more aggressive. He singles out the centrallysponsored schemes for criticism.
"There are over 300 of them. Our country needs only half a dozen in areas like health care, below poverty line and marginal families, etc," he says. In fact, his biggest worry as a state finance minister is about coughing up the state's contribution to schemes which ranges from 15 to 25 per cent of their total outlay. "You have to have money in the coffers to take advantage of central schemes," he says.
Modi, who has written two books as well (he calls them booklets) Kya Bihar Bhi Assam Banega and another one on the subject of job reservation, says politics is a full-time job for him. "There is no time to pursue other interests," says the politician who regularly reads 25 newspapers, including the pink dailies.
That explains a lot about the man who has actually written all his seven budget speeches. "A state budget is not as complicated as a central budget," says a modest Modi, as he finishes lunch and gets ready to leave for the House to attend his own budget session which resumes at 2 p.m.