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Nirmala’s Budget Speech Sounded a Lot Like Jaitley’s 2014 Budget

The broad contours of the Narendra Modi government’s commitments during the inaugural budget speeches of its first and second terms are similar: the focus remains on physical infrastructure, taxation, and the banking and financial sectors, and less time was spent on social infrastructure, such as health, education, climate change and labour, an IndiaSpend analysis of budget speeches shows.

IndiaSpend compared Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s speech from 5 July, 2019, with former finance minister Arun Jaitley’s speech when the party came to power in 2014.

Jaitley’s speech was 16,489 words long and lasted 2 hours, 7 minutes and 42 seconds. Sitharaman’s speech was 20,223 words lasting 2 hours, 9 minutes and 13 seconds.

In places, the pace of the speech differed. So, we analysed the word-count as well.

We calculated the ratio of words spent on each topic to the full word-count of the speech. We derived the words used on each issue largely from the sections into which the speech itself is divided, barring cases such as agriculture that did not have a separate section in 2019 unlike in 2014.

Here’s how the two finance ministers chose to use their time announcing the Union budget:

Agriculture:

Nirmala Sitharaman spent around 3 minutes, 1.11 percent of the duration of her speech, on agriculture, discussing the potential of agricultural produce to generate revenue from “allied activities” such as the generation of renewable energy and sale of timber and bamboo.

In 2014, Arun Jaitley had spent 8 minutes, 7.22 percent of his budget speech, on agriculture, outlining the government’s plan to improve the agriculture industry technologically, set up universities and research centres for the same, and create substantial programmes for the extension of long-term and short-term agricultural credit.

Sitharaman spent around 16 minutes, 6.16 percent of her speech, talking about rural development, two-thirds of which focused on affirming the success of the government’s schemes over the past five years and outlining the current government’s goals for the future. She announced one allocation: Rs 80,250 crore to the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, as part of her speech on rural development.

In comparison, Jaitley spent 3.5 minutes, 2.63 percent of his speech, on rural development, speaking about the National Livelihood Mission, Rural Housing and the Backward Region Grant Fund to develop basic infrastructure in backward areas.

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Taxes, Business and Finance:

Sitharaman spoke for 36.5 minutes (60 percent) as compared to Jaitley (30 percent), who spoke for 36 minutes on taxes.

Apart from "announcing" a slew of tax sops that were previously announced by her predecessor finance minister Piyush Goyal in February 2019, Sitharaman also announced a 3 percent surcharge on income over Rs 2 crore per annum, and a 7 percent surcharge on income over Rs 5 crore per annum. She extended a 25 percent corporate tax to companies with a turnover of up to Rs 400 crore.

Aside from taxes, Sitharaman spent nearly 20 minutes, 6 percent of her speech, outlining the government’s policies for business, including the banking and financial sectors.

In comparison, Jaitley spent close to 5 minutes, 10.1 percent of his speech, describing programmes for the business class.

This included talking about foreign direct investment, bank capitalisation, public sector units’ capital expenditure, instruments such as real estate investment trusts (REITs) and infrastructure investment trusts (InvITs), the eBiz platform (a business-to-business commerce platform), micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and the finance policy.

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Healthcare:

Including the expenditure by states, India spends 1.4 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health. This is still much below the 2.5 percent of GDP goal set by the National Health Policy of 2017, and even the 2010 target of 2 percent of GDP, as IndiaSpend reported in April 2017. Nepal spends 2.3 percent of its GDP on health while Sri Lanka spends 2 percent, data show, as IndiaSpend reported in January 2018.

The word ‘health’ appeared in Sitharaman’s speech thrice: first, while outlining the government’s vision for the coming decade; second, while praising the impact of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan; and third, while describing tax incentives for individuals to spend on healthcare.

Jaitley had spent more than 3 minutes, 2.15 percent of his speech, describing the government’s healthcare programmes, including setting up new All India Institutes of Medical Sciences in various states, as well as government medical colleges and model rural healthcare research centres.

Education:

Sitharaman spent a larger proportion of her speech discussing education (5 minutes, 2.42 percent) than Jaitley did in 2014 (2 minutes, 1.46 percent).

Sitharaman’s speech focused on higher education, and the ‘Khelo India’ programme.

She called for the creation of a commission of higher education in India, and allocated Rs 400 crore for the formation of “World Class Institutions”.

Cuts in education spending as a share of total expenditure, announced by Piyush Goyal in the interim budget, as IndiaSpend reported on 5 February, 2019, were left unaddressed in her speech.

Jaitley’s speech focused more on primary and middle schooling, including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and a teachers' training programme.

Renewable Energy:

Sitharaman mentioned the word ‘renewable’ twice in her entire speech; neither reference dealt with any government programme. Towards greener energy alternatives, nearly 1 percent of her speech was devoted to electric vehicles, in which she expounded upon tax incentives and government investment to promote the use of electric vehicles.

Jaitley had spent close to a minute, 1.3 percent of his speech, outlining plans regarding renewable energy for the implementation of ultra mega solar power projects in five states, and the construction of a Green Energy Corridor. He mentioned ‘climate change’ on three occasions and the word ‘environment’ once in his speech.

Ganga Rejuvenation:

The discussion about the Ganga has diverged between 2014 and 2019.

Sitharaman spent around a minute, 0.59 percent of her speech, on the Ganga, and did not mention the National Mission for Clean Ganga, launched in 2011. Instead, she predicted that with increased focus on developing the navigational capacity of the river, the movement of cargo would increase by four times in the next four years.

Jaitley spent around a minute as well, 1.19 percent of his speech, on the Ganga, outlining his plans for navigation projects on the river and a Ganga Conservation Mission, then budgeted at Rs 2,037 crore, including an non-resident Indian (NRI) fund.

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Urban Issues:

Jaitley spent nearly 4 minutes, 3.37 percent of his speech, introducing the government’s urban programmes, laying out a vision for increased shared investment, low-cost housing, slum development, the Atal Mission For Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the Smart Cities Mission.

Sitharaman spent close to half that amount (3 minutes, 1.85 percent) focusing on urban matters. She congratulated the achievements of the urban housing scheme and called for more investment for transport infrastructure via public-private partnerships, including metro-lines and suburban railways. She did not mention either smart cities or the AMRUT programme.

Water

Sitharaman spent around 1.5 minutes, 1.12 percent of her speech, on water, an issue that is critical in the face of consecutive drought and increased scarcity, as IndiaSpend reported. She announced the merger of the ministries of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation into the Jal Shakti Mantralaya. The Har-Ghar-Jal and Jal Jeevan Mission will ensure piped water access to all households in India by 2024, she said.

Jaitley had spent 37 seconds, 0.42 percent of his speech discussing water in 2014, describing projects as the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, including treatment of sewage and industrial effluents, and de-contamination from flouride, arsenic, etc. in both urban and rural areas.

(Published in an arrangement with IndiaSpend.)

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