Finance Minister rebuts criticism of Budget being pro-rich.
Countering the Opposition’s attack, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday said they were creating a “false narrative” of the Union Budget 2021-22 being pro-rich and asserted that the Budget was an instrument to construct atmanirbhar bharat.
In an hour long reply to the debate on the Union Budget in Rajya Sabha, Ms. Sitharaman said the Budget is about looking for a quick, short term solutions for those who desperately need it. It is also a budget that has laid out medium and long term sustainable growth policy to keep India on the growth trajectory of being one of the fastest growing economies of the world.
The Minister said that despite government schemes and initiatives ranging from roads to agriculture, housing, scholarships to electricity benefiting the lives of people, a false narrative was being created by the Opposition that the government was working for cronies.
“It has now become a sort of a habit for some in opposition to constantly allege whatever this government is doing — in spite of what we are doing for the poor and more needs to be done, and that is not denied at all — in spite of the obviously seen steps taken for helping poor and needy of this country, a false narrative is created to accuse, saying this government works only for cronies,” Ms Sitharaman said.
She then went on to list various achievements of the government. Under the PM Awas Yojana, Ms. Sitharaman said 1.67 crore houses were constructed, under the Saubhagya scheme since October 2017 more than 2.67 crore households have been electrified and asked, “Are these houses for cronies?”
Hitting out at the Congress, she said while they are desperate to prove their ownership of the scheme, it was riddled with problems.
“You may have given birth to the scheme, but you left it in mess. What we have done after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge — we removed all the ills of the scheme and effectively used it,” she said.
Listing data, she said during the UPA era the government could not for a single year spend the money allocated under the scheme. Her government, she said, has in fact spent the highest ever on the scheme, with allocation of ₹90,500 crore so far.
Ms Sitharaman said for 2020-21, the Budget Estimate was ₹61,500 crore for the scheme, which has been increased to ₹1,11,500 in the Revised Estimates.
The Minister dedicated much of the time in countering senior Congress leader and former finance minister P. Chidambaram’s speech on Wednesday speech on the Budget.
Referring to Mr. Chidambaram’s remark that major numbers are suspect in the Budget, Ms. Sitharaman said it was the Congress finance minister who had artificially increased capex numbers during 2007-08 when UPA was ruling the country. “He talked about competence, I do not want competence to fudge the numbers,” she said.
Accusing the UPA government of issuing bonds to oil marketing companies and fertilizer manufacturers in lieu of cash subsidy to “make balance sheets attractive”, the Minister said, “Fake narratives were created… Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not depend on fudging.”
She also denied the Opposition charge that the budget on health and defence have been reduced. As far as defence is concerned, she said the reduction is for the pension payout. “Last year, the pension bill was more because of OROP (One Rank, One Pension) and other arrears,” she said.
There was a lot of criticism, she said for clubbing drinking water and sanitisation budget with the health budget. She quoted the World Health Organisation to justify inclusion of drinking water and sanitation as they are essential aspects of health. The actual increase in health budget is 9.7%.
On agriculture she said much is being made out of ₹10,000 crore cut in the PM Kisan yojana. “This cut is on account of West Bengal not sending us a list of beneficiaries in their State,” she said.