A welcome Tamil Nadu Budget that reflects philosophy of Dravidian movement

Budgets, by definition, are not just balance sheets; they must reflect the political philosophy of the rulers, which must, at once, be practical, well thought out and responsible.

ByDr J Amalorpavanathan

Published Mar 22, 2023 | 10:28 AMUpdatedMar 22, 2023 | 10:28 AM

Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan presents the 2023 TN Budget on Monday, 20 March (Screengrab)

Like a trapeze artist, the finance minister of Tamil Nadu has managed to balance disparate forces to craft a quality 2023 Budget that combines growth with equity.

The challenges before the finance minister were the war in Ukraine, and volatility in the global economy and financial markets coupled with limited scope to widen the tax revenue.

The goals were to increase capital expenditure, job generation, and social welfare measures without imposing fresh taxes.

Budgets, by definition, are not just balance sheets; they must reflect the political philosophy of the rulers, which must, at once, be practical, well thought out, and responsible.

The 2023 TN Budget does all these. And much more.

The best announcements in 2023 TN Budget

The finance minister is acutely conscious about climate change and therefore, irresponsible eco-damaging ventures are conspicuously absent from the Budget.

For a start, the good news is that the revenue deficit is down to ₹30,000 crore — from what was ₹62,000 crore when this government assumed office. That is a remarkable feat considering the global inflationary trends, Covid, and unprecedented flood-related expenditures.

Like most other commentators, I must also congratulate the finance minister for the two major and indisputably the best announcements in the 2023 TN Budget: The free breakfast scheme for nearly 18 lakh students in 30,122 government schools and monthly disbursal of ₹1,000 to nearly 1 crore women of Tamil Nadu (It is not a dole; it is Magalir Urimai Thogai, their entitlement!)

These two schemes are by far the best in this Budget and will endear this government to the people of this state eternally.

Both are well thought out – one improves nutrition and the other empowers women. The money that is going to be spent — ₹500 crore for the former and ₹7,000 crore for the latter — is not much considering the size of the Budget, but the impact of these two on the people will be huge.

These two announcements ensure that the 2023 TN Budget will not be forgotten for a long, long time.

Also read: Will all women heads of families get the amount?

A radical step

School education gets around ₹40,000 crore. Most old dilapidated schools will be repaired. Ennum Ezhuthum will be augmented. But the best component is a huge, eight-storeyed library in Madurai, the land of Sangam enlightenment, housing almost 3.5 lakh books [“ in the first phase”!].

Also read: Arittapatti, village near Madurai with a Sangam age inscription

It is welcome that the finance minister has decided to upgrade ITIs and polytechnics — the much-forgotten centers for technical training. A sum of ₹2,783 crore to 54 government polytechnics will certainly upgrade them into better centers for technical training.

A skill training hub at ₹120 crore is another major step in technical education. Encouragement in the form of a stipend to civil service aspirants would be welcomed by youngsters who are keen on joining the bureaucracy.

Another major — almost radical — step  is to merge all schools under one directorate. It will end so much confusion and inefficiency in administration.

Improving SC habitations

An equally welcome measure is to streamline the SC-ST subplan in the form of a new legislation.

About ₹1,000 crore (over five years) to improve basic amenities to SC habitations is another welcome feature.

Not much for health in 2023 TN Budget

Health gets around ₹18,000 crore — not much different from last year. Adjusted for inflation, it may even be slightly lower. Most of it goes to the tertiary sector.

One welcome feature is extending Makkalai Thedi Maruthuvam to factory workers and migrant workers. But there is no mention of fresh recruitments or ending the contract system for health personnel.

Health is a permanent commitment to people and cannot be achieved by temporary workers with almost subsistence wages.

Anaemia among pregnant women, stunting and wasting in children are still persisting problems, which did not find any mention.

Related: Union Budget 2023 has failed to address challenges faced by health sector

Protecting the coast and other ambitious targets

Alive to the dangers of environmental degradation, climate change and coastal erosion, the ‘Tamil Nadu Coastal Restoration Mission’ has been announced with a budget of ₹2,000 crore for five years. If used properly, it will go a long way in protecting the fragile coast.

Further, the restoration of 10,000 water bodies and laying of about 5,145 km of roads will certainly stimulate rural employment besides being useful social investment in the long run.

Augmenting energy production is vital for industrial growth and job generation. An ambitious target of adding 33,000 MW by 2030 with priority to renewable energy sources is a laudable goal. This must be pursued seriously.

Towards more expensive forms of public transport

Metro rail in Coimbatore and Madurai are good announcements.

One hopes long-term feasibility studies were done before making this announcement. Generally, we seem to move towards a more expensive form of public transport.

The MSME sector gets around ₹1,500 crore. While this may not be enough, all efforts must be taken to see that timely bill payments take place as promised in the 2023 TN Budget.

Growth with equity, the Dravidian philosophy

Eighty-five industrial projects in industrially backward districts employing around 2 lakh youth — this is a major challenge that has been promised in the 2023 TN Budget. If fulfilled, it would be a boon to these districts.

Employment potential for 32,000 women in Ranipet and Kallakurichi are again a right step in the empowerment of women.

These are some of the major announcements. They certainly reflect the political philosophy of the Dravidian movement — growth with equity.

Unfulfilled expectations

Of course, there were many unfulfilled expectations — like the old pension scheme for government employees and more permanent jobs in the government sector, especially teachers and health personnel.

I am sure these will be sympathetically looked at on a later date. On the whole, the 2023 TN Budget was a welcome one that is sure to improve the economy of the state in the coming years.

Also read: ₹38,904 crore for agriculture in 2023 TN Budget. A breakdown

(Dr J Amalorpavanathan is Member, State Planning Commission, Government of Tamil Nadu. Views expressed are personal)