Admittedly, of the many devastating fallouts from the pandemic, the loss of job and job opportunity has left its lasting impact on those who have experienced it. But even though the pandemic, to all appearances, is over, those people are yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Worse, the rising cost of living due to runaway price hike of essentials has only dimmed their hopes further. Against this hardly reassuring backdrop, no doubt, there is a lot of public expectations from as wells as concern about the nation's upcoming budget. The expectations of many are if the budget would come as a relief by way of creating enough income opportunities for them. Badly battered by the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, the low-income and disadvantaged sections of the population, on the other hand, would expect that the upcoming budget would have a provision for providing them with the daily essentials at a subsidised price. Then the fears are if the utility charges for electricity, water, gas, etc would go through another round of the so-called upward adjustment. Another concern is if the energy price, which has the tendency to go up, will see a further rise in the budget.
In a bid to shed further light on these issues, economists and experts of a local think tank came up with their suggestions on the next budget at a recently-held virtual discussion in the city. Interestingly, as could be gathered from the outline of the budget, the focus, as usual, is on the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, the experts at the discussion in question were in favour of a budget that would reduce rather than increase income disparity in society as it is often the case with GDP growth-focused budgets.
In the present context of growing uncertainties all around, reduction of income disparity is also the expectation of the public. In particular, the most desirable aspect of the budget would be to make the most of the envisaged allocations in the budget by way of generating income opportunities and creating as many jobs as possible in different sectors. While there is reportedly the promise of addressing inflation in the upcoming budget, the public's interest would be in measures equal to the task of reducing their cost of living, especially, through taming the soaring essentials prices. Since the inflationary pressure has severely reduced the public's purchasing power, there should be measures in the budget so that their real incomes are protected from further erosion. As the most economically vulnerable segment of the population is still reeling from the impact of the pandemic, there should be arrangements as before in the budget to support them through cash and food assistance.
In this context, the most important requirement for the policymakers would be to have an inclusive database on the recipients of the food and direct financial assistances and also have a mechanism in place to update it continuously. This is for the sake of accountability because the database would ensure that the food and financial assistances so provided by the government reach the target groups. Also, as public health and education were at the receiving end of the pandemic attack, these two sectors should hopefully get top priority in the next budget. Let the upcoming budget be an inclusive, pro-poor one focused on reducing income disparity in society.