Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVIII No. 21, February 16-28, 2019
The recent presentation of the 2019/2020 budget for the State of Tamil Nadu drew guarded praise from many quarters. It appeared that the Government had at last woken up to the fact that its many populist schemes were being funded at the expense of increasing financial abandon and by cutting off money to essential infrastructure and welfare schemes. The budget recognised the problems facing the State and projected no new doles, which appeared to indicate that focus would be on course correction. Considering that this was in an election year, albeit for the Parliamentary seats, this appeared to be a courageous act. But subsequent decisions have belied such hopes.
Hardly had the dust settled on the budget discussions when the State Government announced that it was going to provide cash assistance to over 60 lakh families that are below the poverty line (BPL) in the State. The quantum of assistance amounts Rs 2000 per family, which means the new dole will add Rs 1,200 Cr to the State’s expenditure. Where is this money to come from in a year when, with a view to keeping the middle classes happy, no new taxes were announced? Obviously through either increased receipts and or more borrowings. The former is unlikely to happen as we appear to have stagnated on that front. If we are to resort to the latter it just means we are once again on our profligate ways.
There is yet another angle to this. If just after a budget presentation in the legislature a State Government were to via a suo moto announcement project a major expenditure of this kind, to what purpose then is the budget itself? The number of BPL families estimated is also hugely suspect as the budget presentation had given a far lower figure. It is unlikely that a state like Tamil Nadu has so many BPL families in it. The announcement is silent on the modalities of the cash distribution. Will it be via the Public Distribution System? That was the case when just a month ago, all ration card holders in the State received Rs. 1,000 apart from gifts in kind for Pongal and also to tide over the effects of Cyclone Gaja. This time, the money is being justified on the basis of several parts of northern Tamil Nadu facing a drought. No matter whether it is flood or drought, the political class knows how to make capital out of the situation.
The tight financial situation of the State, has severely limited the room for discretionary deployment of resources. Till this basic issue is resolved Finance Ministers will have to balance the conflicting pressures of popular expectation and economic compulsions. The Budget delivered on February, 2019 for the fiscal year 2019-20 is one such exercise.
Foremost, the Budget should demonstrate concern in terms of policy choices and specific financial decisions that would expand the present narrow fiscal space, at the least, in stages.
And so old George (Jaarj in Delhi parlance) is dead. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease and I am happy he is freed from its clutches. It is a merciful release to a man who was bedridden for the last several years of his life. The unsightly battle between his former wife and son on the one side and his companion on the other for control over him, even as he was unable to have a say, only made his last years most poignant.
My friendship with Charukesi spanned over a period of 50 years. Our first meeting, if I remember right, was at the Ilakkia Chianthanai forum, piloted by the businessman, P. Laskhmanan, and his brother P. Chidambaram (former Finance minister).
After the monthly meetings, during which the best Tamil story would be picked by a reviewer from the ones published in Tamil journals the previous month and a companion lecture on any current topic would be delivered, the writers, artists and the rest of the audience would spill out to have informal chats. Charukesi might not stay long, for he had several irons in the fire. He would dart like a hyperactive butterfly from one person to another and then vanish in a jiffy, as was his wont. He was like a bespoke basketball player, always alert, and here, there on the court.
An executive in a multi-national pharmaceutical giant, he was to me a walking compendium of the Who’s Who of physicians and surgeons in Madras. Whenever a medical issue visited my family, which was (and is) unfortunately often, the names of specialists would come out of his mouth with addresses and phone numbers. He also had very good contacts in the fields of music and education. I should record with gratitude his help in getting my son admitted to a prestigious school (mind you, for free) and also arranging a young and upcoming quartet in Carnatic music for the reception at my daughter’s wedding.