The Budget Speech

It was more about administrative reforms than about budgeting.

Finance Minister Dr. Haseeb Drabu is a well-read economist with a vast experience of working with national and international economic institutions. His time with country’s leading business media house puts him in the category of widely known economic analysts. Mr. Drabu has the distinction of serving at state’s premier financial institution, Jammu and Kashmir Bank as its Chairman and CEO. Such distinctive experience makes him a perfect Finance Minister for politically sensitive and economically stressed state of Jammu and Kashmir. One more aspect of Dr. Drabu’s multi-faceted personality is his attachment and interest with Kashmiri culture and its heritage. That reflects in his recently delivered budget speech where he has proposed insurance cover for cultural assets, like Artifacts, rare manuscripts, and paintings and Setting up of “Shamas Faqeer institute of Sufi and folk music”.Dr. Drabu’s 2017-2018 budget speech is a blend of budget and administrative reforms, where he skilfully tries to merge his proposals with his political agenda, strictly in accordance with the financial constraints state is facing for long. Several of his political opponents without taking his attributes on board may criticize his financial and economic initiatives for the sake of political criticism, but they should give him credit for nicely balancing his financial management within a coalition full of political and ideological friction. No doubt his proposed budget document with the financial expenditure of about eighty thousand crores is more a policy paper for administrative, financial and social reforms with masterly strokes of better land-use policy and conservation of state’s culture and heritage.

The inclusion of populistic provisions like comprehensive insurance scheme for crops, financial assistance for fur artisans’ rehabilitation and social security net for the welfare of the working class speaks of his socio-political agenda. Finance Minister’s suggestions to opt for developmental rather than a purely administrative orientation budget structure along with a move from the traditional public administrative budgeting to a modern Public management approach are positive financial and administrative proposals. Proposed replacement of treasury system by a functionally aligned pay and accounts office (PAO) system will definitely induce a sense of betterment in the age-old domineering system of financial management. The presently overburdened treasury system does not anymore blend with the modern concept of handling financial accounts. Proposal for budget estimation, allocation and monitoring system” (BEAMS), an online computerized system to distribute the budget and to authorize expenditure will not only improve efficiency but will add the sense of transparency in the system.

Dr. Drabu has rightly pointed out the cause of inefficiency and rot within the administrative system by isolating faulty and outdated service recruitment rules. The proposal for manpower audit at all levels to suggest manpower rationalization and revision of all recruitment rules within a single financial year to synchronize job requirements with the appropriate educational requirement is not only a welcome step, but our administrative system badly requires it. However, such revisions, keeping in view the long list of establishments is not an easy task and that too when certain hawks within the system with nepotism and unfairness their only traits will try to tailor-made the rules to suit them. Administration, for last more than three decades, has suffered a lot because of faulty recruitment rules and their misinterpretation or inordinate delay in rectifying the defects. While revising the recruitment rules government has to be extra careful and judicious to draft and approve rules that can attract best human resource without any inexplicable delay.  Change of nomenclature of Government employees at lower levels and change of class categorization will definitely infuse a sense of confidence among the state’s workforce and will change the colonial mindset of the hierarchy. Policy to protect conversion of land is already there in our administrative system. A land-use policy with state land use board (SLUB) exists for long. However, the revival of SLUB and its additional strengthening with much sterner regulations along with its synchronization with state revenue department will fulfill the objectives of Finance Minister’s land protection policy.

The only proposal in present budget that can be termed as out of place with respect to specific annual financial management is the prospective application of seventh Pay Commission financial benefits to Government employees from 1st April 2018. Obviously, this proposal has been included in current financial year’s budget speech only out of political compulsions to provide an assurance to annoyed employees. Policy-wise it can be termed as the better decision to calm and assure deferred seventh pay commission benefits to state employees, but ethics of budgeting do not permit anything financial to be committed in anticipation outside the current fiscal provisions.