Next year’s budget, even without knowing its content, will be dramatically different from any in the past, and the change will be a lot more than just changing the time of presentation from the British-era 5 pm to a more civilised 11 am which gave analysts and markets time to digest its major policies—at that time, when Yashwant Sinha was finance minister, even this time-shift was considered a big move.
For starters, there will be no Railway budget preceding the main budget this time around—the Railways will be a single line item in finance minister Arun Jaitley’s budget documents on how much gross budgetary support is to be given to the ministry and, if at all, a line on how much subsidy is being given to the Railways; so bye bye to long lists of trains to be introduced, tracks to be laid or doubled and lines to be electrified.
That’s not all. If the GST gets into implementation phase, this will be first ever budget not to have any indirect taxation proposals, though it will refer to the rate structure approved by the GST Council and an explanation on why this will not be inflationary. The budget will be the first, since independence, to not talk of Plan and non-Plan expenditure, a meaningless concept since when a new school is planned, for instance, the cost is to be called Plan expenditure but when the same school is allocated funds for teachers the next time around, this becomes non-Plan expenditure! If the NK Singh panel on the FRBM submits its report on time and the government accepts it, the budget will also look at the fiscal deficit target differently—one suggestion, by former Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, for instance, was that the fiscal deficit not be looked at as an absolute number, but be calibrated to the levels of savings and investment in the country in such a way that the fiscal deficit could be raised as long as it left enough savings for private sector to tap. The government also plans to advance the presentation of the budget to sometime in January, so as to ensure the budget gets passed by March instead of in May, as now—that means government departments can start spending in April itself instead of in the second quarter of the year. That’s pretty revolutionary for a budget that has not even been presented.