On the Budget and raising farmers’ income
It’s not an election Budget, it’s not populist. Maybe that’s why it has not pleased anybody. There is certainly no splurge. There is no attempt to win electoral support. In this context, the challenges are what the Budget points out—farmers’ plight, and we must accept that. And this is where the Budget has made a very important statement—that attention must shift from focussing on production and agricultural output to the farmer’s income. Farmers’ income has to be addressed now. Doubling of it by 2022, I think is possible. We have started 10 pilot projects in NITI (Aayog) to try and demonstrate that.
Farmers’ income must be raised and that implies productivity increase, income increase and livelihood improvement in the rural sector. That’s the key. Unless you do that, you cannot get sustained high rates of growth in this country.
On the ambitious health insurance scheme
The other challenge is to implement and roll out the ambitious health insurance scheme. It is a complete myth, false propaganda and nonsense to call this scheme underfunded. This is something that has been in preparation for the last five months at NITI Aayog. People have done their sums. The premium payments for bulk procurement are nowhere near the cost of individual health procurement, so the costs are much lower and the Budget has sufficient provisions. Now the challenge is its rollout and implementation. How quickly and how soon can we do that, that’s it.
It’s not employment, it’s the quality of employment. The sight of graduates wearing gowns, selling pakodas says, look we want something more than what is on offer. The aspirations of our young people is far ahead of the reality on the ground.
On robbing Peter to pay Paul
The LTCG (proposal to tax long-term capital gains), everybody here must know, was long in coming. It had been an anomaly, a distortion of a very basic tenet of economics that you have to tax all asset classes equally. In fact, it’s still not the case and I hope that we will get to that. Given the state of the real estate after demonetisation and GST, it is important to at least try and make an effort that some of the household savings go back to real estate which is now really short of juice. This vacuum cleaning behaviour of the stock market which has happened… this correction had to be made. I don’t think there is a question of robbing Peter here in any case. Peter was getting extraordinarily rich and getting windfall gains so just let Peter share a little bit with Paul.
On NITI Aayog and its future
NITI Aayog is a great idea because this is one organisation that cuts across silos, which has been the bane of the government for a long time. It has the ability to connect the dots. It has the potential to create accountability as was never before in the system. I call it an action tank, not a think tank. What we do is to be completely open to ideas and put them into systems and follow up. It can be a major changemaker. We can achieve a development state in this country and close the gulf between the private and the public. The worst thing I found in the last five months is the sheer acceptance of my colleagues, not all, that we are all like that in the government. We are not like that and NITI Aayog can ensure we are not like that.
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