NEW DELHI: Citing the string of pro-poor measures such as free ration and cooking gas rolled out by the government, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday lashed out at the opposition parties for creating a false narrative that the Budget was pro-rich and the Modi administration only worked for cronies.
Adopting an aggressive stand, the FM said the Budget provided a strong stimulus which would provide medium- and long-term sustainable growth and put India on a growth trajectory that would help maintain its status as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
“It has now become a sort of habit for some in the opposition to constantly allege that whatever this government is doing, in spite of all that we are doing for the poor, and more needs to be done, and that is not denied at all, in spite of various steps, a false narrative is created to accuse saying, ‘oh, this government works only for cronies’,” Sitharaman said in her reply to the Budget debate in the Rajya Sabha as she detailed the various measures that the Centre has rolled out to help the poor and the vulnerable.
She said that under the PM Awas Yojana, more than 1.7 crore houses have been completed. “Is that for the rich?” she asked, adding that more than 2.6 crore households were being electrified under the Saubhagya scheme since October 2017.
“Is that for the rich? The total value of orders placed on the government e-marketplace is Rs 8.2 lakh crore, which is more than Rs 8 trillion. Are they being given to big companies? They are being given to MSMEs. We have helped out small and medium companies to get a market. Is that for the rich and the big capitalists?” she asked.
The FM said loans sanctioned under Mudra Yojana totaled more than Rs 27,000 crore. “Who takes loans under Mudra Yojana? Damads?” she asked, triggering protests from Congress members.
Sitharaman said the stimulus would revive growth and the systemic reforms undertaken during the pandemic by the PM would help sustain growth, ease of doing business, and sustain India as the leader in terms of entrepreneurial skill.
The FM said the Budget provided a clear roadmap for fiscal reforms and how the deficit would be managed. She said the Budget had brought transparency to government accounts. “We have brought everything on to the budgetary accounting mechanism. What you get as Budget is what is there in it, no pushing things under the carpet,” she added.
“Therefore, admittedly, the fiscal deficit number is what it is and we have not even hurried to say, ‘okay, next year we will quickly get the deficit number to something which all of us would like to see’. Not at all. We are going to be careful about how we are going to come down that path without affecting or creating any hurdle in the growth path of this country,” she said.
Sitharaman said the economic thinking was consistent with BJP and Jan Sangh’s ideology of taking care of people at the bottom of the rung — Antyodaya — and, at the same time, respect wealth creators and respect taxpayers. “All our citizens will have to be respected. So, this certainly is in line with and consistent with the policy of our earlier version, Jan Sangh, and the present BJP. So, this policy has consistently been maintained and entrepreneurs in India have always shown their strength, achieved glories and we should respect them, rather than constrict them through all kinds of holding, regulations, and license,” the FM said. She also said commentators had praised the bold privatization moves by the government.
Sitharaman took on former finance minister P Chidambaram, who had called the Budget numbers “suspect” and detailed instances during the UPA era when oil companies, fertilizer units, and the Food Corporation of India were issued special bonds to clear their subsidy dues and these did not reflect in the Centre’s Budget then.
“There is a lot of grudge in the speech of the former finance minister. I feel that there is a little grudge not to recognize how the Prime Minister handled the corona crisis. Today, the entire world is seeing how we, in India, have had fewer deaths per million. We, in India, have fewer active cases when there are countries which are seeing wave after wave. And this handling is entirely due to coming upfront and leading from the front by the Prime Minister,” she added.