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February 28, 2001                                       Feedback  

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No frills, it's just business for Sinha

Team NetScribes

Few will forget Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha's first budget, in his own words ''a defining moment in history" and an "occasion fraught with expectation". Or his solemn assurance then that in preparing that budget he had been guided by the famous talisman of Gandhiji. "I have recalled to myself the face of the poorest and the weakest man I have seen and made sure that this budget is of use to him."

Things were different then. He had to live with the aura left behind by his two predecessors - both dexterous with words, both with their ready reckoners of quotable quotes.

Things are different now. And so are the FM's priorities. The Economic Survey had laid down enough scary statistics in the run-up to the Budget. The message to the FM was loud and clear -- talk tough, talk business.

And Sinha tuned in promptly. So, there were no quotes from Rabindranath Tagore or Swami Vivekananda this time.

Just plain business. In firm tones, peppered with a smart repartee here and a quick retort there.

A Budget that has earned enough kudos from industry honchos within the first few hours, couldn't have been presented with more grace than this. And the House was seldom better behaved.

Just two days after Mamta Banerjee's election rally-cum-Railway Budget - remember the loud `` maine rakha hai, aap dekh lijiye "? - Sinha set out in his understated style to present the kind of Budget that he had promised the first time. "You cannot cross the sea by standing and staring at the water. We intend to cross the water," he had declared three years ago.

Having dropped the poetry from his introduction, Sinha began with a quick, business-like listing of his agenda - reducing the "onerous'' pension liability on the government, ensuring that "generations to come are not burdened by our extravagance". His broad strategy included speeding up agricultural reforms, stringent expenditure control, acceleration of privatisation and a fair and equitable tax regime.

The markets cheered, the Sensex tracker on the TV screen started its climb upwards. Banking stocks rose to the occasion as the FM announced decisions like the abolition of the Banking Services Recruitment Board. HLL soared as exemptions were granted to fruit-and-vegetable-based food processing (pour more ketchup on those French fries, stuff more pickle into the parathas - they're going to be cheaper).

The IT-savvy budget with its concessions, tax holidays and first-of-its-kind emphasis on IT education had tech stocks on a cheerful note right from the beginning.

There were the downs too. As the government unraveled part II of its anti-tobacco saga -- a 16 per cent surcharge on cigarettes -- ITC dipped. And so did Godfrey Philips. Butt naturally.

A glass of water down his throat brought Sinha to the toughest part of the Budget - the tax norms. ``Everybody else will be running for water afterwards," he warned in mock seriousness.

More entertainment came with his reference to the industry that creates ``the much-needed fantasy to millions in this harsh and poor world. His advice to the film industry, "Do not do things chupke chupke and certainly not chori chori".

This Budget speech may bag no award for its script. But the plot looks like it will get more than a few honours.

And no, this piece is not inspired by a Rs 10 million fund for journalists in the hope of ``better treatment at their hands".

The Budget 2001-2002 Special

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