This is not going to be about the Budget, but I shall begin by admitting that I was disappointed that the Finance Minister did not throw the retroactive tax into the nearest garbage bin. The caution he showed in handling a very stupid tax is worryingly symbolic of the caution our new government is beginning to exhibit in its decisions. Has the Prime Minister forgotten that it was a promise of change that created the wave that swept him from Gujarat to Delhi with a full mandate?
If he has not, he should start noticing that much should have already begun to change. The last government left behind a legacy of bad laws that should be immediately torn up and thrown away, to use the immortal words of the man who would have been prime minister if the election results had been otherwise.
Here is a short list. There is a land acquisition law that will make it impossible for the Prime Minister’s hundred new cities to be built. A companies law so bad that the finest corporate lawyers advise a total repeal. And, there is that food security law that will bankrupt India without achieving its stated goal of reducing malnourishment in our poorest citizens.
It is especially hard to understand why the government has committed itself to MNREGA. More than
Rs 2,00,000 crore have been spent on guaranteeing rural employment since 2006 and the biggest problem in rural India remains unemployment. Is that not reason enough to scrap this law? On my travels during the election campaign I made it a point to find out how MNREGA works on the ground, and can confirm that those who really need 100 days of guaranteed work a year rarely get it because corrupt officials and powerful castes lap up the funds. Had the money wasted on MNREGA been spent on improving schools and healthcare instead, India may today have been a very different country.
It is not for nothing that people now speak of the past 10 years as India’s lost decade. It was a decade in which laws, policies and poverty alleviation were outsourced to a caboodle of bigheaded NGOs who forgot that the point of their existence was that they were non-governmental. Under the benign gaze of Sonia Gandhi, this gang of povertarians (thank you Shekhar Gupta for this word) became more important than the real prime minister and his Cabinet. None of the policies that continued…