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How deep are your reforms?

Dhirendra Kumar     February 23, 2015

Dhirendra Kumar
It hardly needs to be said that this is the most important Budget in years. By the evening of the 28th, we'll know whether Mr. Jaitley has been up to the challenge.

He could make this into into a historic Budget, which starts India on a sustainable path of higher growth, or he could bring in something that's an incremental improvement over what a hypothetical UPA Budget could have been.

Logically, he must take the former option. The timing of the elections meant that last year's Budget couldn't but be the latter, basically painting some lipstick on the UPA pig.

This year, there's nothing to stop the finance minister from breaking the mould except a failure of the imagination, or a failure of courage.

The situation in the Parliament, too, points to the necessity of resolutely using the Budget to the hilt to move the reforms agenda since the Budget is a money bill and the Rajya Sabha cannot block it.

This government will be constrained to carry forward most of its reforms agenda through executive actions and money bills, and surely the 2015 Budget is the biggest opportunity it will have.

But what exactly are strong or resolute reforms? How does one distinguish them from incremental ones? The coal auctions are a good example. These are a great example of a large, but yet not a fundamental reform.

There's no doubt that auctions are a huge step forward. They are transparent and they generate massive revenue for a resource that used to be given out for free.

And yet, they're not a fundamental reform. It's absurd that one can't be a power producer in India without being a coal miner, and that there's no single market for coal where coal producers compete on efficiency and quality. Fundamental reform would have meant the dissolution of Coal India and the end of the monopoly.

Can Mr Jaitley take such fundamental steps in areas like taxation, government expenditure and so many other areas? If India has to move forward meaningfully, then he must.

The author is CEO of Value Research

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