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Let us evaluate.

What students from IIM-A and JNU thought of Narendra Modi’s budget

By Diksha Madhok

After Narendra Modi’s government presented its first full budget on Saturday, TV channel and newspapers across the country scrambled to get hold of India’s top economists and business leaders who could analyse and assess finance minister Arun Jaitley’s speech.

So did Quartz. But we also invited students from India’s top universities to share their views on Modi’s much-hyped budget. After all, in a country where, as Jaitley said, “more than 54% of the total population (is) below 25 years of age,” young people’s thoughts on this government’s economic policies matter a lot.

Quartz pasted the full text of Jaitley’s speech and asked graduate students from The Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad and Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to annotate it, line by line.

IIM-A is consistently ranked as India’s top business school, with a history of training some of India’s sharpest corporate minds. JNU, on the other hand, is perhaps the country’s most prestigious public university, with a student body that typically leans left. And as the exercise unfolded, the differing ideologies became increasingly apparent.

While students from both universities were skeptical about the success of some of Modi’s key initiatives, including the Jan Dhan Yojana (scheme for people’s wealth) and Swachh Bharat (clean India campaign), they had starkly different feedback on the overall budget.

Both camps, however, felt team Modi was being a bit too premature in triumphantly declaring its success at governance in the last few months.

Some of the unedited comments, along with the excerpts from Jaitley’s speech are pasted below. You can read all the comments here.

Performance so far

Jaitley:

We inherited a sentiment of, if I may say so, doom and gloom, and the investor community had almost written us off. We have come a long way since then…In short, Madam Speaker, we have turned around the economy dramatically, restoring macro-economic stability and creating the conditions for sustainable poverty elimination, job creation and durable double-digit economic growth. Domestic and international investors are seeing us with renewed interest and hope.

Altaf Malik (JNU): FM is claiming credit for too many things! By no way does a strong stock market or foreign inflow reflect a sustainable poverty reduction environment.

Rahul Menon (JNU): It is quite dishonest to say that the ENTIRE improvement in the economic situation is due to the Modi government. The global fall in oil prices went a long way in reducing inflation. Movements in foreign capital also reflect US monetary policy, not only domestic performance.

Kaustubh Kumar (IIM-A): The FM was lucky to have had the sharp drop in oil prices happen in the past year. Therefore, to claim credit for fiscal consolidation through his policies is factually wrong.

Jan Dhan Yojana

Jaitley:

Financial inclusion has been talked about for decades now.  Who would have thought that in a short period of 100 days, over 12.5 crore families could have been brought into the financial mainstream?

Kaustubh Kumar (IIM-A): Although they have managed to open 125 million accounts through Jan Dhan Yojana, over 65% of them remain idle. Therefore there is still a long way to go before we can call the programme a success.

Ankita Rastogi Raj (JNU): Beneficiaries of the scheme are limited to people using a RuPay account and those who have a financial transaction within 45 days prior to premature death

Swachh Bharat

Jaitley:

The third is ‘Swachh Bharat’ which we have been able to transform into a movement to regenerate India. I can speak of, for example, the 50 lakh toilets already constructed in 2014-15, and I can also assure the Members of this august House that we will indeed attain the target of building six crore toilets.

Parikshit Kabra (IIM-A): 1. The number constructed and the number actually placed have been argued to be signifcantly different. 2. I am unclear whether besides the toilets are being accompanied with appropriate infrastructure like drains and sewers.

Rahul Menon (JNU): The building of toilets is no doubt a good move. But the issue of cleanliness and sanitation goes way beyond simply building toilets. There are several caste issues tied in with sanitation tat also needs to be addressed.

Altaf Malik (JNU): SBA is not new. It’s renaming of cleanliness programs which were started much before Modi discovered the term SBA.

Inflation

Jaitley:

Madam Speaker, one of the major achievements of my government has been to conquer inflation.

Rahul Menon (JNU): This had VERY little to do with the present government.

Kaustubh Kumar (IIM-A): The reduced inflation rates are more a reaction to global macro trends, in particular oil price drop, rather than any step made by the government.

New GDP

Jaitley:

The Central Statistics Office has recently released a new series for GDP, which involves a number of changes relative to the old series.

Kaustubh Kumar (IIM-A): These figures are misleading as according to calculations, publicly available, done by economists, the inflation rate of calculation used by CSO has been taken at an average of 4.7%. This is lower than the actual figure of 6.8%.

Housing for all

Jaitley:

The call given for ‘Housing for all’ by 2022 would require Team India to complete 2 crore houses in urban areas and 4 crore houses in rural areas. Each house in the country should have basic facilities of 24-hour power supply, clean drinking water, a toilet, and be connected to a road.

Altaf Malik (JNU): You know what, this new format of game twenty-22, does not seem very interesting. Have we not been listening to every government which came to power that they want each household to have all these facilities. Well that means it is not so easy to implement. Beware what you say FM!

Fiscal deficit

Jaitley:

…I will complete the journey to a fiscal deficit of 3% in 3 years, rather than the two years envisaged previously.

Altaf Malik (JNU): Please don’t forget to keep a separate fund, within that 3% fiscal deficit target, @ Rs. 10 lakh a piece for Modi’s ‘Band Ghala Suits’ each time he meets head of other country. I just do not understand the Govt.’s obsession of keeping FD under 3%.

Rahul Menon (JNU): An economy with demand deficiency and huge stocks of unutilised resources (like food stocks) should not be focusing on reducing fiscal deficits. Several economists have already spoke out in favour of not cutting deficits.

Disinvestment

Jaitley: 

Madam Speaker, it may be noted that the budget reflects considerable scaling up of disinvestment figures. This will include both disinvestment in loss making units, and some strategic disinvestment.

Parikshit Kabra (IIM-A): Disinvestment is good idea (no matter if it is just to supplement your funds). Government should only tackle market failures, otherwise it has no business in business (rather regulating them is role). Greater detail on the same would have been nice. What’s the plan?

Rahul Menon (JNU): Disinvestment must not be done if the only purpose is to generate funds.

MGNREGA

Jaitley: 

Our government is committed to supporting employment through MGNREGA. We will ensure that no one who is poor is left without employment.

Parikshit Kabra (IIM-A): It would be nice if they also spoke about how the targeting would be done better. Only those who need it should get this benefit. Stories of workers going back home for 100 days during the year to get unearned wages is not unheard off.

Akshita Yadav (JNU): Well, stories of working 100 days under the scheme, and not getting paid are also not unheard of. The fact is, even those who need it aren’t getting it. Thus, targeting will only worsen the situation. Better implementation, accountability and infrastructure, is what is needed.

Infrastructure

Jaitley:

There is a pressing need to increase public investment. .. I intend to establish a National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), and find monies to ensure an annual flow of Rs20,000 crore to it.

Rahul Menon (JNU): Infrastructure funding is long-term and provides uncertain returns, a large part of which may not be directly monetizable. Is it the place of the government to assume the risk in order to provide a better return for private lenders?

Kaustubh Kumar (IIM-A): A pragmatic approach to raising capital for infrastructure projects.

Women

Jaitley:

In order to support programmes for women security, advocacy and awareness, I have decided to provide another Rs1,000 crore to the Nirbhaya Fund.

Ankita Rastogi Raj (JNU): Plan of deployment? Funds have been allocated previously too, what is the plan of spending, if any? and how is it informed by past failures/experiences if any?

Conclusion

Kaustubh Kumar (IIM-A): I believe the budget is a well balanced one. The importance to infrastructure and capital investment should help ease supply side constraints. The continued focus to ease the process of doing business in India will help drive growth which will lead to higher domestic demand.

Rahul Menon (JNU): This is a budget that hopes to achieve all this by pushing the “supply-side”, by making it easier for corporates to do business, rather than boosting domestic demand. I do not think this strategy will be successful. Now where did I put my jhola?

We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com