FM Nirmala Sitharaman
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
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The Narendra Modi government’s 2020 Budget made four important announcements that are seemingly unrelated — increase in deposit insurance to Rs 5 lakh from the earlier Rs 1 lakh; commitment to a tax charter that reduces harassment by tax officials; separation of the Trust for government employees from the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority; and the listing of Life Insurance Corporation of India. What is common to these announcements is that they reflect the growing aspirations of an economy trying to break into the big league. But true reform in each of the sectors will only be possible through a fundamental restructuring of the underlying administration.

The Budget has picked on the right questions. But these are not problems that can be solved by tinkering at the edges.


Also read: Has Nirmala Sitharaman delivered on high Budget expectations or did slowdown leave no room?


Deposit insurance

Take the case of deposit insurance. The problem is as much the amount of insurance, as the delays in the payout. Analysis of data from 2013 to 2018 shows that on average it takes two years for the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC) to pay out claims. At the close of the last financial year, 25 bank failures were yet to be compensated with depositors waiting for more than six years on average. An increase in the amount does not change the practical reality that depositors are not able to access their funds for years.

If the Modi government wishes to reform deposit insurance, it needs an understanding of the frictions in the following processes: a) of recognising bad news in a bank as early as possible, b) of liquidation of a bank and c) of the actual payout. The answers to these lie in the FRDI bill that was proposed by the previous government. This would have led to the establishment of a Resolution Corporation, separate from the banking regulator and would be the deep structural reform for effective deposit insurance.


Also read: Focus on rural India, women, SC/STs — Budget 2020 fits into Modi govt’s welfare plank


New tax charter

The issue of harassment by tax officials has been on the government’s agenda for a while. India has already embarked on a faceless tax assessment system to avoid excessive discretion or harassment by tax officials. However, what is missing is a discussion of the problems in tax administration that lead officers to behave in a manner that is detrimental to tax-payers. We have to understand that officers are only responding to incentives, and change in behaviour calls for a fundamental change in incentives. For example, one cannot have a policy of setting tax targets on income tax officials, and at the same time, hope for good behaviour. This change will only come about through a fundamental reform in tax administration that has to begin with the separation of tax administration (Central Board of Direct Taxes) from tax policy (Ministry of Finance). Once that is done, there needs to be reform of the tax administration wherein a detailed procedural law governs the legislative, executive and quasi-judicial wings of the CBDT that brings about improved accountability.

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Also read: Winners and Losers: Who got what in Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget 2020


Separate trust for government employees

The Budget mentioned the need to separate the Trust for government employees from the PFRDA. There is indeed an uneasy tension between the role of PFRDA as a regulator and the role of PFRDA as an administrator of the National Pension System (NPS). However, it is not clear whether the separation of the Trust only for government employees is the right path forward. Once again, what is required is a coordinated effort that pulls various elements of the pensions story together such that we avoid fragmentation of an already fragmented market.


Also read: Nirmala Sitharaman cuts short her budget speech but it’s still India’s longest ever


LIC listing

Finally, the Initial Public Offering of the LIC is perhaps the boldest announcement in this Budget. This will only be possible if investors are able to see what is on LICs books. For example, the LIC would have to tell us the scrip-wise cost of investments over (at least) the last decade, and the current market value of these investments. A lot of this detail today remains unavailable. A move to the new accounting standards, IndAS, will mean that profit will have to be booked as the difference between fair market value (as opposed to the current book value) and actual sale. The Modi government will need to have the appetite to deal with skeletons that may emerge from the LICs closet and also be ready to lose the all-weather buyer for its own offer for sale and other transactions. This requires serious appetite for reform.

The Modi government now needs to get to the essence of the frictions in each of the sectors, and follow up with deep structural reform that will truly pave the way for the aspirations of a young India.

The author is an associate professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP). Views are personal.

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4 Comments Share Your Views

4 COMMENTS

  1. A good if non comprehensive look at “reforms”.

    Right since 2014, the basic propensity of the BJP ruled State has been , “Business as usual: covered up in fresh robes, or, as I prefer to call it, the PANGOLIN* Colonial-Communist Hybrid Quota (Reservations/License) and Corruption (Extortion / Percentage) Raj. This Congress wrapped up in Saffron robes and known as the BJP has promoted the State, buttressed the most corrupt and least productive sectors of the economy such as Judiciary, Bureaucrats, Politicians and Police with obscene increments and perquisites, while throwing doles and entitlements to the pampered first class citizens of India, the Moslems, the SC, the ST, the BC, and the OBC.

    The bona-fides of this Government are heavily suspect. I shall mention just a few illustrative examples here:-

    (1) The very first law the BJP made after coming to power was the Sonia Gandhi Bill to send politicians and bureaucrats abroad for medical treatment at my expense while most Indians can neither access nor afford genuine and credible health care.

    (2) Their so called “anti corruption” laws has, like Nehru’s, criminalized the victim of extortion (the so called “bribe giver”) making it impossible for victims to complain but has gone further, making it impossible for extortionists (aka Judiciary, Bureaucrats, Police, Politicians etc) to be punished. So much for a “non adversarial and collaborative” tax regime. Again, the Internationally poor (India’s poverty line is Rs 98.70 per day, whereas Germany’s is rs 3, 970pers day adjusted for purchasing power) known as the India “Middle Class” are being looted and plundered by the State because they do not receive any benefits from the gargantuan self serving minions of Government. All their taxes go purely to maintain the burgeoning overheads of a profligate, obese , over remunerated and non productive Government and Public Sector while they have to pay for everything else from water supply, electricity, education and health through their nose. They have to suffer the indignity of being fleeced for toll and struggling through pot holes while Government “VIPs” whizz past in luxury vehicles paid for by the poor.

    (3) The Government has done nothing about “Equality under law”, the second item of their 2014 manifesto. For example:

    (a) Fundamental Rights of Articles 14 and 15 that were abrogated by Ambedkar in 1949 to steal from the “haves” for the “have lots” in the name of the mythical “have nots” on the basis of caste, tribe, religion, gender, language, geography, majoritarian voting muscle, and proximity power which have been steadily growing in collusion with India’s corrupt and incompetent judiciary lacking integrity, have not been done away with but rather remain the leit motif of this gang of Modi Shining frauds.

    (b) Fundamental Rights of Articles 20 and 21 which have been abrogated by exercise of sheer State callousness such as the none availability and non affordability of Legal assistance and the rule of law have been allowed to drift. For example Nehru’s law of 1959 which took away the rights of the tribals to forage and thoroughfare through the forests of the Himalayas, Wrestern Ghats and Dandakaranya,, has seen moe than 80, 000 tribal incarcerated in cages like animals by forest officials for decades. (I was told this by Gopal Pillai when he was the Home Secretary). This law has contributed more to the growth of Naxalism and Maoism than any other PANGOLIN* law. or even Nehru’s “social re-engineering of the North East which has done little ought than the spread of Christianity and insurgency.

    (c) The abrogation of Articles 25 and 28 of the Constitution in 1959 by Nehru who confiscated the Temples, treat, lands, water bodies, educational institutions, gymnasiums and other commonwealth of the Brahmana led Savarna Arya and did away with their religious freedoms in gleeful consort with India’s alien inspired and educated Judiciary have been continued by this Nehru in Saffron clothing called Narendra Modi as it was by the shayrie spouting Nehru in a white skull cap called Vajpayee..

    The 2020 budget merely affirms the Government’s commitment to continuing the “For government, by government, to government) State established in 1947 by, inter-alia, promising 64,000 new Government Jobs while continuing the destruction of the engines of employment, the small and medium industries and businesses with harassment and taxes.. A solemn affirmation of, “More Government, Less Governance, Make Governing a Pleasure”

    *Note: PANGOLIN: An enemy of India who believes in inequality under law, exceptions to the rule of law and persecution of some for the benefit of others. At present, the sole purpose of the Indian Republic, Constitutional or otherwise, is to pamper and provide for certain constitutionally preferred sections of society who the British found useful to hold and exploit India at the cost of those who the British hated and persecuted. The Pangolin is a creature that is unique to India and feeds on ants that are known in nature to be industrious and hard working if not quite as fruitful as bees who flee to better climes. (PANGOLIN is an acronym for the Periyar-Ambedkar-Nehru-Gandhi-Other (alien) Religions-Communist Consensus that usurped the British Mantle and has worn it with elan to loot, plunder, and rape India since 1921 and re write History and laws to their exclusive benefit since 1947)

  2. TO PUT IT MOST SUCCINCTLY THE BUDGET SPEECH WAS MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING . THE INTELLECTUAL BANKRUPTCY OF THE BJP WAS ON EXHIBITION

  3. Agree with Renuka. FM needed to announce focused policy actions on many structural issues rather than merely touch basing them. It is the PM who has to articulate specifically his economic vision as a political statement and FM to implement it in a time bound manner. It is not enough to have tax payers charter but it is important to accept that tax payers are entitled to have a stable and reasonable rates of taxes and government will fund its ever increasing requirements of expenditure from other sources (like disinvestment, sale of spectrum etc or finally from RBI, if need be) but not increase taxes beyond what is stated for a period of say 5 years. As regards deposit insurance, apart from FRDA Bill, government must offer deposit product (saving bank and fixed deposits) to ordinary depositors, on the lines of PPF account, where funds are handed over to the central government. The commercial banks will offer this account and operate them but the funds will be 100% risk free, as they are liability of the Central government. This will make clear to ordinary persons that they must keep some amount as the last resort in this risk free option and usual bank deposits can be risky options beyond protection of deposit insurance limit. After this, hopefully scenes of chest beating, heart attacks, death y shock etc. witnessed in the aftermath of PMC Bank episode should end! Similarly, on bond markets, currency and index trading etc. there could be many specific actions which are required and cannot be delayed, if government is serious. Even new taxation option could have been finalized during the year and presented with minimal exemptions rather than having it like a work on progress and allowing the issues to linger. LIC disinvestment is a good idea and should be seriously pursued, But why not sell JNU, Jamia, IIMs and IITs as well and create a national fund for education and skill development? Having done a good start up job and nurtured them to be world class brand, why not monetize them, get out of them and allow them to flourish? JNU will be surely bought for at least 50 lac crores and be the source of left liberal sickular thoughts for the world. Western liberals would love to buy it! Modi needs to think out of the box, like he does for his political ideas.

    Having said all this, the budget is a good work but could have much much better. Modi is sadly but certainly wasting his time.

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