The ´leap´ of the year turned out to be more of a ´hop, skip and jump´. Cautiousness prevailed as FM Arun Jaitley reined in the fiscal deficit to 3.5 per cent of GDP and stood his ground. The month began with the ´Make in India´ extravaganza which helped the state administration revisit the MOUs signed by industrialists with various BJP-ruled states. This was followed by the Rail Budget, the Economic Survey and the Union Budget. The mood of the nation is showing the strain. The corporate sector is in severe pain. Profitability of business has shrunk by Rs 20,000 crore in the public sector while it has shrunk by over Rs 30,000 crore in the private sector (as per a survey of 3,000 companies that excluded banks, finance and broking houses). The proportion of corporate debt owed by stressed companies, defined as those whose earnings are insufficient to cover their interest obligations, has increased to 41 per cent in December 2015, compared to 35 per cent in December 2014.
Yet, the GDP is estimated to grow by 7-7.75 per cent on the back of the three demand drivers: the infusion of the 7th Pay Commission payout (estimated Rs 1.02 lakh crore), the OROP payout (Rs 10,000 crore) and the public spending envisaged under the Union Budget. This is further backed by a higher probability of a normal monsoon although the benefit of the oil price is not likely to be as much as was available last year.
Public spending is clearly the engine of revival. In the current scenario with the private sector badly bruised, capital is shy and only government-funded, large-scale infra projects can revive the economic cycle. The FM has proposed an outlay of Rs 2,21,728 crore for infrastructure. Of this, the Rail Budget proposes to spend Rs 1,21,000 crore. The budget to electrify 2,000 km next year has witnessed an increase by 50 per cent. It has also targeted commissioning 2,500 km of broad gauge lines at 7 km/ day, almost 30 per cent higher than last year. LIC has agreed to invest Rs. 1.5 lakh crore to fund railway projects. In the roads sector, which has green-lit the infra revival, the Budget has accorded a higher allocation of Rs 97,000 crore and including an accelerated Pradhan Mantri Gram SadakYojana (PMGSY) with an outlay of Rs 27,000 crore. As per the roads minister (see cover story on page 51), Maharashtra itself will see a spending of Rs 68,000 crore in the coming nine months. Rural development is the mantra of this year´s budget as Rs 87,765 crore has been provided for irrigation, electrification and welfare. Coal production has been the highest ever at 550 mt while imports by India are sliding. Last fiscal, India spent Rs 1 lakh crore in importing coal. We have already saved Rs 22,000 crore this fiscal on this account. Coal India has been directed to double production from the present level to 1,000 mt by 2019-20. Most of this increase would happen via the surface mining segment and, to achieve this, the volume of overburden to be removed would shoot up from 1,000 million cu m to 2,500 million cu m. This will result in greater utilisation of existing deployed equipment while placing huge demands on the need to invest in additional mining equipment. Smart cities, too, would see RFPs of Rs 4,000 crore by the end of this calendar year.
The change in the complexion of state budgets like those of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, among others, are great proof that federal empowerment is working and will be the true opportunity in the years ahead. All states are laying great emphasis on infrastructure investment, education, power and youth employment. The 14th Finance Commission´s largesse to states will see an amount of Rs 2,87,000 crore, which going by the composition of the spending will see a greater thrust on infrastructure and social welfare. All considered, the Budget supports the creation of an ecosystem for the revival of rural demand for overall economic revival.