Arun Jaitley’s fourth Union Budget as the Finance Minister is expected to be special in many aspects. While we can’t yet predict how special it will be in terms of popular provisions are concerned, for the first time the Union government has decided to break away from the old practice of distributing hard copies of the Budget to general public and the media. In its effort to go digital and “green”, the government will distribute hard copies of the budget only to 788 members of the Parliament and the rest will get the soft copies of India’s most important annual economic document.
The government has also not distributed printed copies of the Economic Survey 2016-17 to general public and media. Interestingly, Union Finance Minister Jaitley has also authored a chapter of the Economic Survey.
The government’s decision to restrict the printing of Budget and Economic Survey documents follows the suggestion made by Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2014-15. With the aim of obtaining mandatory Parliamentary approval for the annual spending plans and tax proposals before start of new financial year on April 1, Modi government has also advanced the day of budget presentation by four weeks. In past, it was always presented on the last day of February.
The budget-making process starts every year in September. This year the government had to speed up the entire process to present it on February 1.
With Modi government’s push for heralding a digital future for India, especially after the demonetisation decision, it is expected that Jaitley may announce some incentives for the Digital India campaign. Despite the digital push, a large part of India is still not connected with digital modes of communication. There are problems like absence of proper digital infrastructure, lack of access to tools like smartphones and computers and, moreover, access to electricity.
Since May 2014, the Union government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started a number of programmes to make India’s digital transformation possible. Still, India is such a large and populated country, making the entire country digital is as difficult as pushing a mountain.
Finance Minister Jaitley now has this unique opportunity to make Union Budget a force multiplier for a “Digital India”. The question, however, is: Will he? And How much?