When a Budget is presented in July, and when a significant new commitment of expenditure is made for a single purpose (as in the case of agricultural loan waivers this year), there is not much room for other things. So we must see the loan waiver itself as the significant announcement, and not ask what else is significant this year.
That said, there is one thing in the Budget which I liked. The focus on the industrial development of a few districts, based on key strengths in those districts, is a potentially good idea. If it is done right, it could distribute development more broadly around the state, and that is long overdue.
The other question everyone has been asking all afternoon is about the elevated corridors in Bengaluru. As I noted above, there’s not much money for this, anyway, in this year’s Budget, which is why only 6% of the project cost is actually assigned to it in this year. At best, we can do feasibility studies in preparation for something like that – the actual project will have to materialise later, if at all.
I say ‘if at all’ because there are other things that can be done, which will yield much better results. The doubling of the bus fleet will cost only 5000 crores, i.e. only a third of the elevated roads. 1500 km of walkable footpaths can also be done for 5000 crores. And those works can begin today. They will result in a shift to public transport, as well as support pedestrian movement.
The elevated infra is also probably off target, if we look to the horizon of growth and take a more regional view of development. In the next 10-15 years, the sprawl of the city will be significant, and movement ‘through’ the city will be less important. Think of regional airports in Hosur and one day possibly in Bidadi too, as well as a South Bangalore railway terminus – all of this will happen. Then, the major infrastructure will need to be at the inter-city level, rather than across neighbourhoods in Bengaluru.
The challenge in all Budgets is to do what is necessary to solve problems in the present, as well as what is useful to create value in the future. Our problem, from one year to the end, is that we look at this in reverse. First, the projects are decided, and then the value propositions are debated. When that order reverses, development will accelerate.