Indian media slams 'zero risk' budget

Indian media on Saturday slammed the embattled Congress government's budget that eschewed bold reforms and opted for modest steps to rein in the deficit, describing it as "low on vision".

Newspapers said the budget presented by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was mainly aimed at not rocking the political boat following a string of setbacks that have left the Congress-led coalition in a tight political corner.

Mukherjee, known as the government's top trouble-shooter, steered clear of contentious reforms in presenting the budget to lawmakers on Friday.

Economic growth for the next year was forecast at 7.6 percent, a rise from the 6.9 percent projected for this financial year, but far below the eight- to nine-percent levels the economy grew at for much of the last decade.

The Indian Express called the budget a "lost chance" to take tough decisions to present economic reforms and achieve fiscal consolidation before the government is expected to present a "please-all" pre-election budget next year.

Mukherjee said he would target a fiscal deficit in 2012/13 of 5.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) -- less that the projected 5.9 percent this year -- but still the largest among major emerging market nations.

"Lord, give us fiscal discipline but not yet," commented leading economist Swaminathan Aiyar in a column on the front page of The Economic Times, which said the finance minister had "played safe" in his budget.

Aiyar said Mukherjee failed to give a road map on how hefty subsidies on oil, fertilisers and food that have swollen the deficit would be cut.

The Mail Today called it a "zero risk budget" that was "low on vision" and whose hikes in service taxes could fuel inflation.

The stinging media verdict was the harshest on any budget to be presented by the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh since it first took office in 2004.

Financial analysts were equally harsh on the budget.

"No one expected anything major in the budget from a near-toothless government but even then it managed to disappoint," CLSA senior economist Rajeev Malik said in a note to investors.

Source: AFP

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