Promises To Keep

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Sawant faces herculean task to deliver on his promises

AS was expected in the last year of the current Assembly term, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant  presented a please-all budget for the financial year 2021-22. He has sought to please all sections — schoolchildren, mining dependants, farmers, private taxi operators, unemployed youth and others. His budget has placed a key focus on Swayampurna Goa in order to make Goa self-reliant. The size of the new budget is over Rs 25,000 crore, which looks ambitious. He has set aside over Rs 6,900 crore for capital works. There are big allocations for infrastructure development, tourism, power, health, education and tribal welfare. However, a lot of the funds will be utilized for revenue expenses such as salaries, debt repayment and maintenance. There is no clear-cut roadmap for implementation of the budget proposals, nor any clue as to how the targets for revenue generation will be met in absence of tax proposals.

In order to gain support among the two lakh mining dependants who have been facing an uncertain future since the closure of mining, Sawant has announced formation of Goa State Mining Corporation to restart mining in the state. He also said that the government was making all efforts through the judiciary as well as central government channels for restarting mining operations in the state. In what is seen as a promise to attract the youth, the government has announced that 11,000 vacancies in various government departments and other entities would be filled in the days ahead. As many as 37,000 jobs would be created in the private sector in the projects cleared by the Investment Promotion Board. In order to take agitated private taxi owners on board and provide a level playing field, the government has proposed to install digital fare meters free of cost. It remains to be seen whether the various sections for whom the Chief Minister has made a number of promises would be satisfied with them or demand more. There is also the uncertain promise of how the measures take shape in the course of implementation.

Sawant’s statement that all the roads in the state would be hot-mixed within four months might not bring great cheer to road users. They have been waiting for good roads for close to half a decade. They have endured bad road conditions for long and their plight is unlikely to end at least till after the end of monsoon. With monsoon just a couple of months away, the hot-mixing of roads, which may begin next month if everything goes as planned, would have to be stopped midway with the onset of monsoon. It is surprising that Sawant chose to make the big announcement of hot-mixing in his budget when it should have been a routine exercise. The government had announced completion of road repairs and hot-mixing long ago but failed to deliver. Admitting the bad conditions of the roads, the government had even put off the implementation of the amended Motor Vehicle Act till the repairs were done.

The effectiveness of the Chief Minister’s promises has to be also judged from the point of view of the fact that the state’s fiscal deficit has been rising as a result of borrowings and the gap in revenue. GCCI president Manoj Caculo has said that the budget was full of promises but given the poor fiscal position of the state “delivery seems doubtful”. Given the fact that this is an election budget, the government will find it hard to see that the promises made are implemented in the next few months before the electoral process is set in motion. Much is at stake for the government as failure to deliver on the promises during the crucial period before the Assembly elections could boomerang on it. The promises could be delivered only when the state has enough funds. Given the current financial position, it is unlikely that the government would have enough resources to please all. With no clear-cut channels for revenue generation it remains to be seen how the government would have enough money without risking to increase the gap between revenue and expenditure even further, making things difficult for itself.