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Updated February 1st, 2024 at 21:45 IST

Health cover, roof for all and 1 crore solar connections light up Sitharaman's Budget speech

Government sets target to reduce fiscal deficit below 4.5 per cent by FY26.

Business Desk
Nirmala Sitharaman
Nirmala Sitharaman during her Interim budget speech. | Image:ANI
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Vote on account: Presenting the Interim Union Budget 2024, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday said Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government's policies benefitting farmers, women, youth, and the underprivileged have ensured an equal distribution of resources, signifying government’s focus on "growth in action." The Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) being extended to all ASHA and Anganwadi workers is seen as a step to boost women’s empowerment.  

Budgetary allocations 

The interim Budget has allocated Rs 6.2 lakh crore to the Ministry of Defence, the highest among all allocations, followed by Rs 2.78 lakh crore to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Additionally, the Ministry of Railways received Rs 2.55 lakh crore in allocations while the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution received Rs 2.13 lakh crore.

The Ministry of Home Affairs received Rs 2.03 lakh crore while the Ministry of Rural Development has been allocated Rs 1.77 lakh crore. The Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers received Rs 1.68 lakh crore, the Ministry of Communications received Rs 1.37 lakh crore and the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare secured Rs 1.27 lakh crore in allocation. 

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Capex momentum thrust 

In a Budget speech that extended for close to one hour, Sitharaman announced an increase of 11.1 per cent in the capital expenditure to Rs 11.11 lakh crore for FY25 from Rs 10 lakh crore in FY24. However, the FY25 CAPEX outlay stands at 3.4 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), Sitharaman said in her speech. 

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The FY25 net market borrowing was seen at 11.75 lakh crore while as FY25 tax receipts are pegged at 26.02 lakh crore. Meanwhile, FY25 total expense is seen at Rs 47.66 lakh crore, Sitharaman said. “The target is to reduce the fiscal deficit below 4.5 per cent by FY26. FY25 fiscal deficit is seen at 5.1 per cent of GDP,” the Finance Minister. 

Cashless health insurance for all 

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) was extended to all ASHA and Anganwadi workers. 

There was no budget allocation in this regard. Last Budget, FM Sitharaman earmarked Rs 7,200 crore for FY24. A sum of Rs 88,956 crore was allocated to the Health and family welfare ministry in FY24. AB-PMJAY is a health insurance scheme for the poor, providing up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary healthcare hospitalisation. 

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Direct Benefit Transfer 

Underling the government's flagship Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) also known as the ‘jan dhan scheme’, Sitharaman said the government firmly believes in empowering the poor. 

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“Direct transfer of Rs 34 lakh crore using ‘jan dhan’ resulted in savings of Rs 2.7 lakh crore to the government,” Sitharaman added.

“The country was facing enormous challenges in 2014, but the government has overcome those challenges via structural reforms and policies like Sabka Sath Sabka Vishwas,” she said, adding that over the last nine years more than 25 crore people moved out of the multi-dimensional poverty. “The direct benefit transfer has helped the government benefit the poor," Sitharaman highlighted.  

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Pradhan Matri Awas Yojana 

Sitharaman said with the help of women's empowerment initiative and housing for all scheme under the 'Pradhan Mantri  Awas Yojana' (PMAY), Government of India has allocated over 70 per cent of houses to women as sole owners.  " Our four major priorities are gareeb (poor) and mahelayen (women), anadata (farmers) and nawjawaan (youth)," Sitharaman added.  

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“With an approach to sarvangin, sarvsparshi, and samavesh, covering all castes and all people, aiming to build Viksit Bharat by 2047,” the Finance Minister added.  “For our government social justice is an effective and necessary government model,” said Sitharaman. Besides, the government will launch a scheme to help deserving sections of the middle class “living in rented houses, or slums, or chawls and unauthorised colonies” to buy or build their own houses, Sitharaman said.

Call for innovation 

Invoking Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan of  “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” and PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s slogan of  “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan” and PM Modi’s subsequent call for “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Anusandhan”, Sitharaman said, “For our tech-savvy youth, this will be a golden era. A corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore will be established with a 50-year interest-free loan provided. The corpus will provide long-term financing and refinancing with long tenures at low or nil interest rates. This will encourage the private sector to scale up research and innovation significantly in sunrise domains.” Sitharaman said, adding that deep tech technologies for defence production will also get a boost. 

Rooftop solarisation and free power supply 

Sitharaman said through rooftop solarisation, one crore households will be enabled to obtain up to 300 units free electricity every month. “This scheme follows the resolve of the Hon’ble Prime Minister on the historic day of consecration of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya,” the FM said. The benefits expected from this green initiative include savings up to Rs 15,000 to Rs 18,000 annually for households from free solar electricity and  selling the surplus to the distribution companies. 

Railway corridors, air travel routes 

In the Interim Union Budget 2024, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman highlighted significant developments in the aviation sector. Over the past decade, the sector has experienced substantial growth, with the number of airports doubling to 114.

During her budget presentation, Sitharaman revealed that 517 new aviation routes are currently operational, catering to 1.3 crore passengers. Indian carriers have actively invested in the sector, placing orders for more than 1,000 new aircraft to further enhance air connectivity.

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The Finance Minister emphasised the continued expansion of existing airports and the expedited development of new ones. She noted the pivotal role of the aviation sector in the context of India's fast-expanding middle class and ongoing urbanization. Sitharaman highlighted the potential of metro rail and Namo Bharat as catalysts for essential urban transformation, with a focus on transit-oriented development in major cities.

These developments signal a proactive approach to meet the growing demands of air travel in India, aligning with the broader economic and infrastructural goals outlined in the budget. In a boost to connectivity, Sitharaman announced three major railway economic corridors. These include an energy, mineral, and cement corridor, a port connectivity corridor, and a high-traffic density corridor. 

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Sitharaman said that railway projects have been identified under the PM Gati Shakti Yojana for enabling multi-modal connectivity. These will “improve logistics efficiency and reduce costs,” she said. Govt will support manufacturing and charging infra for the e-vehicle ecosystem. Greater adoption of e-buses will be encouraged with the payment security ecosystem, the Finance Minister said.

 

 

 

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Published February 1st, 2024 at 13:38 IST

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