The ides of March may not have been as unfortunate as they were for Julius Caesar; however, they didn’t make any magic either. But then rarely do budgets meet expectations. ‘Politically correct’ is what all FMs aspire to be. The democratic system fails us in Parliament, especially during Budget sessions as no opposition would oppose any pro-poor reform even though it may be signalling a death knell to our finances. The legend of the great fire of Rome when apparently ‘Nero fiddled while Rome burnt’ is being replayed as the ruling party proposes the National Food Security Bill to an economy still struggling to contain its fiscal deficit. The Budget now projects a revised fiscal deficit estimate at 5.9 per cent of GDP, against a budgeted fiscal deficit of 4.6 per cent: a slippage of the magnitude of Rs 1,092 billion vis-a-vis the budgeted FY2012 estimates. This is because the implementation of the Food Security Bill will alone amount to a minimum of 0.7 per cent of GDP and could be as high as 1.5 per cent of GDP. So although such populist bills may be passed by all parties, the moral responsibility of taking the economy to the cleaners rests with the PM. And yet the burden of the populist schemes is not as taxing as the deafening silence on the lack of any smart catalysts for the economic engine.Given the liquidity available in the western world, India’s plan of attracting foreign investment to its $ 1 trillion plan for its 12th Five-Year Plan could not have been timelier, especially owing to its over 7 per cent GDP growth numbers. But money does not wait and somehow we have been making money wait inordinately long while getting our act together. Brazilian contractors teamed up with companies in Argentina, France and South Africa to bid $ 14 billion for leases to Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos international airport and two other facilities. The Brazilian government managed to attract over five times its minimum expectations from the auction for the rights to operate the three airports, which last year accounted for about a third of Brazil’s 179 million passengers and 57 per cent of its air cargo, in preparation for the forthcoming World Cup in 2014.To maintain the momentum in the economy, an investment of over 10 per cent of our GDP needs to be made into infrastructure. However, although we have been managing to double the spend and outlays over the past five-year plans, the execution falls acutely short. The 12th Five-Year Plan needs a spend of Rs 1,000 billion every year but an empowered coordinating agency that can expedite execution by de-bottlenecking is the need of the hour. We are losing Rs 1,000 billion every year owing to delayed projects. Simply put, by expediting project execution we could save enough to fund the infrastructure plan to the extent of 50 per cent and that itself will drive the balance 50 per cent from non-government sources. This agency needs a taskmaster like E Sreedharan, India’s metro man (also, CW Man of the Year 2010) with full support of the Planning Commission and PMO.To arrest the declining graph of capital formation, it is time to bring in an investment allowance that can spur investment activity in line with the new National Manufacturing Policy. The policy cleared by the Cabinet in October, aiming to create 100 million jobs and increase the share of manufacturing in India’s GDP to 25 per cent by 2022, from 16 per cent now, is laying its focus on the establishment of national investment and manufacturing zones (NIMZs). This is totally misplaced; a smarter catalyst to kick-start manufacturing activity would be the introduction of an investment allowance with a limited window.If voters are voting for development then surely the UPA’s score card has red ink all over it. Now, even the road to votes lies in development as even the Food Security Bill failed to win votes in Uttar Pradesh. Announcements are not enough; people need to see action on the ground and the clock is ticking.