Business Today

Budget 2013: Brevity, please, Mr Chidambaram

Pranab Mukherjee dwelt on prosaic things such as beeswax and probiotics in his budget speech last year. Let's hope P. Chidambaram does not do likewise.

Sanjiv Shankaran        Last Updated: February 4, 2013  | 15:47 IST

Sanjiv Shankaran
The Union Budget provides the ruling party or coalition an opportunity for some political grandstanding.

The media's attention is concentrated on the finance minister's speech and there are many who follow it in real time. Television news and newspapers cover it in great detail the next day.

Therefore, unsurprisingly, finance ministers use the opportunity to showcase economic incentives or handouts for the constituencies they aim to please. For sure, there are many other proposals in the budget that have far-reaching implications, but they are often not mentioned. It is left to journalists, accountants and economists to dissect the budget papers to extract impactful proposals.

For instance, in the last budget (2012/13), the retrospective amendments on tax, which later overwhelmed other announcements, found no place in the budget speech. They were to be found in the supporting budget documents.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA)'s budget speeches under both Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram follow a clear pattern.

The early paragraphs are devoted to spending announcements on projects that are politically important. For instance, the UPA's budgets typically devote space to programmes such as Bharat Nirman, a plan to build rural infrastructure.

A look at the UPA's budget speeches over the years reveals another puzzling pattern. They have gotten longer and longer, filled as they are with almost trivial details. Trivial, perhaps, to the media, but, presumably, there is some constituency that was being addressed.

For instance, last year, Pranab Mukherjee spent time explaining tax breaks for beekeeping and production of honey and beeswax. There was another explanation on incentives for companies dealing with probiotics.

Mukherjee's budget in March 2012 ran to 36 pages and had 220 paragraphs. Eight years earlier, P. Chidambaram, who presented the UPA's first budget, finished in 155 paragraphs that ran over 26 pages.

Given the influence television has over the system - the first few post-budget interviews of the finance minister go to television channels - one would imagine that budget speeches would get shorter, but that hasn't been the case.

The 2013/14 budget is the last full budget of the UPA government. The government's term ends in 2014, and provides Chidambaram an opportunity for some grandstanding.

Hopefully, it will be done in a concise manner.

  • Print

A    A   A