Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday said the Union Budget 2021-22 aims to attain sustainable growth for an Aatmanirbhar Bharat (a self-reliant India) with enhanced allocations to key sectors and focus on uplifting the poor, but the Opposition was spreading a “false narrative” that the government was working for the rich.
Speaking on the budget in the Rajya Sabha, Sitharaman said the budget was drawn from the experience of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known for his commitment to development, growth and reform, and it was through these three things that Aatmanirbhar Bharat would be attained.
Citing global recognition to India’s effective handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, she said: “False narratives were created… There is a lot of grudge in the speech of the former finance minister [referring to Congress leader P Chidambaram]… not to recognise how honourable Prime Minister handled the corona crisis. Today the entire world is seeing how we in India have had less deaths per million, we in India have less active cases when there are countries which are seeing wave after wave [of Covid-19]…”
Chidambaram attacked the Modi government in the House on Thursday, calling its Budget a “disappointing” one, and labelling it a “budget for the rich, of the rich, and by the rich”. Earlier last week, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had said in a tweet: “Modi’s crony centric budget means- Struggling MSMEs [micro, small and medium enterprises] given no low interest loans, no GST relief. The employers of India’s largest workforce betrayed.”
Reacting to the criticism, Sitharaman said: “It’s now become a sort of habit for some in the Opposition to constantly allege whatever this government is doing… False narrative is created to accuse saying, oh, this government works only for cronies.”
She provided details of some of the work done by the government for the poor, including the completion of over 16.7 million houses for the poor under the PM Aawas Yojana, more than 26.7 million homes having been electrified since October 2017 and the total value of orders placed in the government’s e-marketplace being ₹8,22,077 crore. Sitharaman said all these benefits had gone to the poor and small enterprises and not to the rich.
She said the total verified applications on the national scholarship portal were over 90 million and these people were getting scholarships. “Whom are these fellowships going? Are they going for the rich? Are they going for the capitalists? Are they going for the cronies who the UPA government had happily encouraged? And now to stand up [in the House], and each time create the false narrative,” she said.
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Sitharaman said approximately 16.9 million farmers were registered with e-NAM or the online National Agriculture Market to get connected across the country for better prices for their produce and not “constricted” by the local market. “Are these farmers rich, corporate farmers? No, not at all, they are small farmers,” she said.
Speaking about the government’s disinvestment policy, Sitharaman said it was part of the reform process initiated in 1991. “The entire range the Congress party covered from high socialism [to] hybrid socialism with Indira Gandhiji’s Congress… which was nothing but ‘license-quota raj’. And from there to 91  without blinking an eyelid… They moved from the high socialism to come down to opening globalisation and everything else,” she said.
Congress leader Deepender Singh Hooda said, “In about seven years of BJP government, on the economy, there is a big difference between what BJP says and does, and this budget also reflects the same.”
Sitharaman said the Modi government’s policy is consistent with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Jan Sangh’s ideology of “Antodaya” or to take care of the people at the bottom of the rung. “At the same time, respect wealth creators, respect taxpayers, all citizens will have to be respected,” she said.
Sitharaman said the criticism that the health and defence budget had been curtailed was incorrect and quoted the World Health Organization that water and sanitation were integral parts of health care. “So, increased allocation for water has been based on the objective to provide tap water to ensure health for all,” she said.
Even the budget allocations to health departments per se had been substantially increased, she said. According to her, the budget allocations to the ministry of health and family welfare were raised by 9.6%, to the ministry of ayush by 40%, and to health research by 26.8% (year-on-year comparison with budget estimates or BE). Similarly, defence (revenue) saw 1.3% growth in the budget and defence (capital expenditure) grew by 18.8%, she said.
Ram Singh, professor at the Delhi School of Economics (DSE), said the Budget for FY-22 has elements of realism, which is reflected in enhanced allocation in capital expenditure. “It is tailored to revive the economy in the short-run and accelerate the growth rate in the medium terms. The government expenditure is well targeted,” he said.