News Update

Whetting the budget (App)etite

JANUARY 25, 2021

By V Ranganathan

THE Union Finance Minister while stirring the halwa and bringing it to the right consistency, has aroused our interest  by the announcement that the Budget 2021 will be housed in an 'App' (Android & iOS). Earlier, the ministry had announced that the budget documents will not be the usual booklets held together by the ubiquitous rubber band but will be 'soft copy' in electronic format. Whether the budget will be soft or hard, one needs to await the appointed hour  on 1st Feb, but delivering the budget information in an app model is quite revolutionary and unduly kindles our yearning for more and more information.

When yours truly turned his attention to the dour and dreary subject of budget and taxation to ensure the uninterrupted arrival of the monthly pay check on his desk,  the budget presentation used to clash with 'Sandhyavandanam' time and the only way to stay 'au courant' was to tune into Madras B station of All India radio. With only Indian airlines flying two flights from Delhi to Madras, those wishing to flaunt the 'full set' of budget document needed to wait till at least 11 the next morning. TV was devoid of the light and thunder seen nowadays and the discussion following the 9 PM news on radio usually featured a senior official of the Finance ministry in discussion with whoever could speak English flawlessly. Fiscal deficit was never a headline and the budget speech was more a T20 affair and not a test match like recent years. Of course, tongue in cheek, the speeches had very placid endings with no Urdu, Bengali or Tamil poet being summoned to justify what the FM cannot with logic! Sorry, I have digressed just as the budget speech does.

How can the app concept of presenting the budget be fully exploited to the gain of the analysts, researchers and even the inquisitive common man. I have heard from many who live abroad that budgets are a non-event in most countries and India is an enviable exception as budget day  every year is a 'Gabba' moment.

Most TV debates, among even the best and accomplished economists, is a product of who knows in which corner a particular critical information is hid and thereby score brownie points in the debate. It would be best that the thunder is stolen from all TV stars by putting more information transparently in the hands of everybody. Should the inflation assumption in the budget be covered  in a N-95 mask or should the App actually help a curious student to query with 'what if' scenarios of how the various components of the budget can change if economic parameters change on the ground? Without seeking to elongate the discussion and  leave it to more fertile brains  to conjure more titillating ideas to actualise the aspiration of the Finance Minister of presenting a once in a century budget, I would in conclusion say the App at the minimum should support the million odd hits it may encounter by 2 pm when hopefully the speech would have ended!

(The author is a Chartered Account and Company Secretary. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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