India's budget shuns big-bang reforms

GMT 13:14 2015 Sunday ,01 March

Arab Today, arab today India's budget shuns big-bang reforms

Electricians are seen working on a pylon
New Delhi - AFP

The Indian government's budget was praised Sunday as balancing the need to boost business and to help the poor, but some experts were disappointed at a lack of big-bang reforms to Asia's third largest economy.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced an $11.3-billion increase in spending on crumbling roads, rail and other infrastructure and cut the corporate tax rate on Saturday, when he unveiled the right-wing government's first full budget.
Jaitley also rolled out new pension, insurance and social security programmes for tens of millions of desperately poor, along with tougher penalties for wealthy people who stash their cash overseas to avoid paying tax.
But some analysts were concerned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not use the budget to radically reshape economic policies after his party swept to power in a general election last May, pledging to reform the then-faltering economy.
"Given Modi's historic mandate last year, many people had hoped that this budget would signal a sharp and visible departure from business as usual," Sadanand Dhume, India expert at Washington-based think-tank the America Enterprise Institute, told AFP.
"Measured by that yardstick, it is indeed a bit of a disappointment," he added.
Some economists had been hoping Jaitley would slash the more than $35-billion annual subsidy bill championed by the previous left-leaning government. Critics say the programme is inefficient and too expensive.  
Others were anticipating a start to the privatisation of inefficient state-run banks and companies.
Alok Churiwala, head of Churiwala Securities in Mumbai, said reform expectations had been sky high, but "we all knew in our hearts that in a big democracy like ours (such) moves are most unlikely".
Jaitley on Saturday attempted to deflect criticism of the pace and scale of reform, after months of pledges to fire up the manufacturing sector and improve the ease of doing business to attract foreign investment.
"People who urge us to undertake 'big-bang' reforms also say that the Indian economy is a supergiant which moves surely but slowly," Jaitley told parliament.
Political researcher Manoj Joshi said the government was mindful of the need to balance reform with helping the two-thirds of Indians still living on less than $2 a day.
"The point is that the BJP is a political party and is making a budget in a country where there are many poor voters," Joshi, from the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told AFP.
"They have tried to balance the issue of setting the stage for growth along with social equity."
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last month suffered a drubbing in Delhi state elections, its first major defeat at the polls since it stormed to power.
Despite new figures showing the economy is growing faster than previously thought, critics say many ordinary Indians have yet to feel the benefit and are tired of waiting for change.
India's media on Sunday mostly praised the budget for forging ahead with efforts to boost growth, while holding back on reforms in favour of helping the poor.  
"Jaitley lights growth fuse," a front-page headline read in the Hindustan Times.
An editorial in left-leaning The Hindu described the budget as "an imaginative and deft balance".
"Mr Jaitley has deftly reconciled the interests of business and the markets on one hand and that of masses .. on the other..." the newspaper said.
"It Isn't Big, But It's Full of Bang," said The Economic Times.

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