J&K BUDGET: Financial sorcery and political poetry

Sarwar Gulzar
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jan 22 2018 11:19PM | Updated Date: Jan 22 2018 11:19PM
J&K BUDGET: Financial sorcery and political poetry

Of late, the financial poetry surrounding J&K’s annual budget proceedings leaves the legislative house bewildered and awestricken. The opposition most of the times ends up shooting aimless blunt arrows as an instant reaction. Mitigating the fear of getting exposed with their limited financial vocabulary and understanding most of the members of the house prefer remaining mum instead.

Unlike old wostas, who used to drive this yearly financial bus in their own vernacular style, the new driver happens to be an experienced and well-read mechanical engineer. His passion with the specifications of bus engine and mechanics (read budgeting and accounting) is so vivid that he at times forgets that the bus is also about its passengers. He prefers to spend most of his time explaining the benefits of newly incorporated features like anti lock braking system, automatic fuel transmission, airbags, suspension, engine torque, displacement and turn radius (read BEAMS, PAO system, PFMS etc) of the bus. He also makes it a point to remind his passengers about the very irresponsible and unprofessional approach of old wostas, which has made this miserable bus extremely fuel inefficient (read recurring revenue expenditure). In addition to a pile of unpaid fuel bills, the old wostas have also recruited an army of support staff for maintenance, security and administration of this bus (read government employees and casual labourers).

The problem with the new driver is that despite his fourth year as the incharge of this mega financial bus of the state, he is still stuck with two things: either bashing old wostas or boasting about the upgraded vehicle specifications. In the process, the passengers are left with no option but to wait tirelessly for the bus to take off. The problem at hand is that the fare given by the passengers (read tax collections) is far less than the expenditure on the bus (read salaries for support staff and fuel bills). This leads the otherwise smart driver to tread the path of the old wostas i.e. to borrow money from the banks.

To ensure that he remains the driver for more terms to come, he starts to explore means as to how he can calm the passengers who by now have started to protest because of the poor cabin condition of the bus and bumpy roads (read economic slump). He does this by offering more jobs in the already overburdened bus administration team (read regularization of daily wagers) and not only that, he also hikes salaries of the existing staff with many freebies (e.g. 7th Pay commission, DA etc). With all this expenditure, the debt of the bus keeps on mounting and the welfare and safety of the poor passengers keeps on taking a back seat. This leaves very little money for investing in creating more seats in the bus and improving the condition of deteriorated roads (improving tax base through capital expenditure).

While justifying his decision of showering pleasantries on the government employees, the learned man said that this is not just about 5 lakh employees, its about 20 lakh people (5 lakh house holds he meant) and he also said that this will improve the demand pull in the economy. But we humbly remind him that it lacks sustainability. I think he has never heard of the great proverb, “if you give a man a fish, you will feed him for the day but if you teach a man how to fish, you will feed him for his entire life”. Our finance minister chose to distribute fish rather than investing in creating income generating avenues. All the reforms he invested so much of time and energy in will show impact in the long run-that is what he says, almost, always. But who gets to see that “long run”? John Maynard Keynes, the famous British economist, wisely quoted “In the long run we are all Dead”.

 

Author is based in Srinagar and writes about political and economic issues