CM sounds confident, but fiscal worries are showing in budget

| FEBRUARY 09, 2024, 12:30 AM IST

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant's budget for 2024-25 presented on Thursday, which he claimed was in alignment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Viksit 2047  raises new hopes amid the fiscal gloom. Not perturbed by the rising debt numbers, Sawant continues to infuse positivity mixing optics with his math to create an illusion of a picture-perfect State. With such a lot on the agenda, it is to be seen whether Sawant can deliver this time.

As usual, the budget is high on octane with a dash of goodness and budgetary provision across sectors. The intent is visible this time with a clearer focus on implementation, accounting consolidation and streamlining of procedures and the confidence of the CM is showing despite the bleak revenue numbers and an increasing dependence on the Centre. Sawant has gone on the lines of the Central budget and avoided outrageous populism. There are no extraordinary sops that were seen in the last budget, and more importantly, the CM has not imposed any fresh taxes. New announcements may be by far fewer but they hold optimism.

On the flip side, there is a measured level of scepticism because some of the key promises in the previous budget haven’t been fulfilled yet. Assistance to farmers was promised, but several farmers are still going in circles. The same is the case with promises made to Self-Help Groups. On the health front, the CM promised to set up two nursing colleges, and an ICU and Medical College at South Goa District Hospital besides fast-tracking a Cancer centre. On tourism, there were caravan tours planned, GI tag to Bhaji Pav, and Fish Curry, besides a major push for online services across departments. Many crucial announcements of the previous budget have been either work-in-progress or not initiated, although the government claims that it has achieved over 90 per cent of the previous promises.

Nonetheless, Sawant understands his target audience well. In this budget, he has made a clear attempt to pacify the Scheduled Tribes who are pushing him against the wall on political reservations. So here is what he offers them: A 75 per cent subsidy for rooftop solar plants and solar pumps, free solar lights in residential areas, Kunbi village at Uguem, Tribal Museum at Bandora and Tribal Bhavan at Porvorim.

The CM sounded confident while presenting a Rs 26,765 crore budget that has a revenue surplus of Rs 1,720 crore. The Gross State Domestic Product is expected to grow at 13.87 per cent. On the surface, there is every reason to cheer, but underneath, the numbers cut out a sorry picture. The State received a Central assistance of Rs 750 crore during the financial year 2023-24, which is expected to go up to Rs 1,506 crore this fiscal. Over-dependence on the Centre could be catastrophic, especially in case of political turbulence.

Now the worrisome part. The net outstanding liability has touched Rs 31,844 crore (as of December 2023) taking the State further towards a debt trap even though Sawant claims that the borrowings have been way below the upper limit. The government spends 28.4 per cent of the receipts towards salaries and 16 per cent towards debt servicing, leaving it with very little to navigate. These are equations that can’t give comfort to any government no matter how much it tries to sugar-coat the budget.  

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