A challenging situation like pandemic didn’t deter the government from taking up reforms that are going to be necessary for sustaining long term growth for this country, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in Lok Sabha on Budget 2021.
February 13, 2021; A challenging situation like pandemic didn’t deter the government from taking up reforms that are going to be necessary for sustaining long term growth for this country, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in Lok Sabha on Budget 2021.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday reeled out pro-poor measures such as free ration and gas to hit out at Opposition parties for creating a “false narrative” of the Modi government being pro-rich and said her Budget for the next fiscal has provided stimulus to the economy for a sustainable high growth rate. She took on former finance minister P Chidambaram for questioning the numbers in her Budget, saying unlike the UPA regime when an “artificial” increase in capital spending was shown to project growth and subsidy shifted from the government budget to companies, the Budget for 2021-22 brings transparency by bringing all spending on book.
Replying to a debate on the Budget in the Rajya Sabha, she said spending on defence for the fiscal beginning April 1 has increased both on revenue and capital side and there is a decline only in provision for pensions as the previous year’s spending included payment of arrears for the one-rank-one-pension (OROP) scheme. “A false narrative is created to accuse that this government works only for cronies,” the finance minister said as she reeled out statistics to show the government’s pro-poor policies.
Taking on Chidambaram, who in his speech called the numbers in the Budget “suspect”, Sitharaman said the former finance minister during his term in 2007-08 showed Rs 40,000 crore fiscally neutral transaction of acquiring the RBI’s stake in SBI under capital expenditure to show a 62 per cent growth in spending. If this is taken out, “growth rate was only 9 per cent”, she said, asking if this was not ‘suspect’. She said her Budget for 2021-22 has provided the highest capex growth of 34.4 per cent by providing more money to railways, roads and defence, and not Chidambaram’s.
“That was the wrong statement to make. We have not done fiscal routing,” she said. Also, during the UPA era, oil companies, fertiliser units and the Food Corporation of India were issued special bonds to clear their subsidy dues and these bonds did not reflect in the government budget. “False narratives were created,” she said.
“Prime Minister Modi does not depend on fudging.” She said there was a lot of “grudge” in the former finance minister’s speech. “Grudge not to recognise how Prime Minister handled corona crisis” that results in fewer deaths per million and lower active cases when countries have seen wave after wave, she said.
Sitharaman further said the benefit of rural roads, free gas and electricity connection, and direct benefit transfer does not go to the rich. More than 1.67 crore houses for the poor were constructed under the PM Awas Yojana, 2.67 crore households provided electricity connections, 8 crore rural women households given free cooking gas LPG connection and 9 crores got scholarships. “Is that for the rich?,” she asked. As much as 2.11 lakh kilometres of rural roads were built in the last six years.
“Are those villages for rich?,” she asked. While Rs 8 lakh crore worth of transactions were done on the government e-marketplace, Rs 3.6 lakh crore digital transactions happened on the UPI. She said Rs 2.79 lakh crore was spent on giving free foodgrains to 80 crore during the pandemic and cash to 40 crore farmers, women, disabled and elderly. Also, 11 crore small and marginal farmers have got Rs 1.15 lakh crore since the start of the scheme to give cash support to them. Is e-marketplace used by rich, she asked. “UPI is used by rich, corporates? Is this government creating UPI, facilitating digital transactions to help some rich cronies, some damads (sons-in-law). Not at all. It is helping only the poor.” When some Congress members objected to her using the term ‘damads’, she said, “Damad I didn’t think is a trademark of Indian National Congress. Damad har ghar mein hota hai (sons-in-law are there in every household) but damad in Indian National Congress is a specialised name.”
Her statement was an oblique reference to Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Vadra has been accused of getting illegal favours during the UPA regime. Congress and Vadra have previously denied all such charges. “It has now become sort of habit for some in opposition to constantly allege in spite of steps taken to help the poor and needy in the country,” she said. “Budgetary provisions are made for poor, Dalits, tribals and the students.” The Budget is an “instrument” to attain Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) and provides an economy battered by pandemic a “strong stimulus” of a record capital spending on demand-creating infrastructure building that can bring “multiplier effect”.