THE passage of the Finance Bill 2020, the fiscal measures that are laid out in the national budget for the 2021 financial year, has taken place without major changes despite a long-running demand for the scrapping of unethical provision for the legalisation of undisclosed money. The provision has also been relaxed, in comparison with what was in the national budget as proposed in the parliament on June 11, to unduly advantage the section of people in possession of untaxed money. The government initially offered the scope for the legalisation of such money by way of investment in land, flats, cash deposits and savings certificates in exchange for a 10 per cent tax amidst criticism that has often called the means ‘unconstitutional, unethical and unfair.’ The provision has been relaxed by curtailing the lock-in period for the investment of such money in stocks to one year from a three-year period as was proposed. Such a measure has done away with whatever scope the provision had to create some benefits in the stocks. The budget speech proposed a 5 per cent increase in supplementary duty on mobile calls and other services and the provision has been retained amidst calls for its scrapping.
The retention of the provision is highly likely to stop many students, now already struggling to catch up with online teaching and learning in the time of COVID-19 emergency when all educational institutions have been closed since March 17, nine days after the first detection of novel coronavirus infection on March 8, and the closure has now extended until August 5. The COVID-19 outbreak, which has compounded the education front in addition to exposing the vulnerability of the health sector, warrants that the government should somehow arrange for alternative means of teaching and the government may have rightly started telecasting online classes especially for school students and allowed others, private and non-government institutions, to run class on the internet for school, college and even university students, but it has done so the wrong way before ensuring that the proper infrastructure is there. People’s aspirations and expert opinions, as they have come up in discussions since the placement of the budget proposal, have so far mostly been ignored. All this and other such issues speak of the absence of an accountability in the budgetary process. Citizens still do not specifically know how the measures to earn revenue would work and to what extent. It is crucial that citizens have access to information related to budget so that transparency could be ensured and the budget management process could be held to account. A framework for budget revision is also almost non-existent as the use of budgetary allocation is often left unexplained to the citizens.
The national budget often contains provisions that burden ordinary people and that experts oppose, in most cases rightly, as they run counter to people’s interest. And some provisions often unduly advantage the rich. Unless such issues are mended, the national budget remains a budget for all, but works to the benefits of a few. The government must, therefore, stop this and ensure that people’s rightful aspirations and right directions that experts show are reflected in the budget.
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