By Ashok Pandey
The Union Budget FY23, presented by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, seeks to lay the foundation and offer a blueprint to steer the economy for the next 25 years—described as the Amrit Kaal. The Budget’s hallmark lies in the courage of conviction the finance minister exhibited post-Budget during the meet-the-press and Sunday afternoon tete-a-tete with India Inc at the FICCI’s executive meet.
The Budget proposals have three light-posts: the Economic Survey 2021-22, UN’s SDG report 2021 and the Budget presentation in Parliament. Based on the transparency of financial statements and fiscal position, its fundamental tenets reflect the government’s intent, strengths, and challenges and nationally-determined commitment to sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Under the provisions of SDGs, health and well-being, economic and employment opportunity, and peace and prosperity for all must be ensured. The government’s task is to provide infrastructure, institutions of excellence, equity and policy structure. How will this Budget be evaluated from the standpoint of sustainability?
- Rebooting education: The Budget, concerning the education sector, focuses on digital equity, upskilling, boosting employability, educational accessibility, well-being, and human capital formation. There will be a shift in approach from receiving a general education and sell to market model to sensing, skilling, responding to the industry model. A proposal to set up 750 virtual labs in science and mathematics, and 75 skilling e-labs for the simulated learning environment, can revolutionise vocational training.
- Technology and AI for social good: There is a push to maximise new technologies for social good. ‘Kisan drones’ will be promoted for crop assessment, digitisation of land records, and spraying of insecticides and nutrients. In select ITIs, the required courses for skilling will be started in all states. Quality education will be universalised through the ‘One class-one TV channel’ programme of PM eVIDYA covered on 200 TV channels. Use cases for Ai in geospatial systems, space economy, genomics and pharmaceuticals, green energy, and clean mobility systems have immense potential to help achieve SDGs.
- Aspirational districts reach-out: The ‘aspirational districts’ programme to raise the condition of least-developed districts in the country is underrated. The FM said, “Our vision to improve citizens’ quality of life in the country’s most backwards districts through aspirational districts programme (ADP) has been translated into reality in a short period. Ninety-five per cent of the 112 districts have made significant progress in key sectors such as health, nutrition, financial inclusion and basic infrastructure. They have surpassed the state-average values on many parameters.”
- CoP26 commitment: Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at the CoP26 meet in Glasgow that India will attain net zero carbon emissions by 2070. He linked climate change with lifestyle changes. This is reflected in the Budget announcement for the ambitious goal of 280 GW of installed solar capacity by 2030, an additional allocation of Rs 19,500 crore for PLI for manufacturing high-efficiency modules, with priority to fully integrated manufacturing units from polysilicon to solar PV modules. The low carbon development strategy as enunciated in the ‘panchamrit’ the PM announced is an essential reflection of the government’s commitment to sustainable development.
- Focus on higher education: Building on last year’s budgetary promise to increase enrolment from 26% to 50% in HEIs, the Budget has proposed concrete action.
World-class foreign universities and institutions will be allowed in the GIFT City to offer courses in financial management, fintech, science, technology, engineering and mathematics free from domestic regulations. Also, five existing academic institutions will be designated as Centres of Excellence to develop India-specific urban planning and design knowledge and deliver certified training with Rs 1,250 crore endowment.
Equity and excellence ensure a country’s sustainability. No finance minister can afford to defy Paco’s Law: “Your spending will equal what you have available to spend.” With the expanding bandwidth of the annual Budget year-on-year, the FM has done that, leaving no one in doubt while quoting the Mahabharata: “The king must make arrangements for the welfare of the populace by way of abandoning any laxity and by governing the state in line with the dharma.”
The author is director, Ahlcon Group of Schools, Delhi