Prime Minister Narendra Modi Thursday chaired a meeting with leading economists and experts, organised by government think tank NITI Aayog, to discuss a range of issues concerning the economy, social sector and startups. The meeting comes ahead of the Union Budget 2020-21 which will be tabled on February 1.
While top Cabinet ministers including Home Minister Amit Shah, Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar attended the meeting, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was not part of the deliberations.
On being asked why the Finance Minister was not part of the deliberations, a North Block official said she could not attend the meeting due to “prior commitments”. Sitharaman Thursday held pre-Budget consultations with BJP’s national office bearers, spokespersons and representatives of the party’s other departments. When contacted, a Finance Ministry official said the letter for NITI Aayog meeting was received in the Minister’s office Wednesday, while the meeting at BJP headquarters was fixed a week earlier and so, it was difficult to reschedule it. “The Finance Minister then contacted the Prime Minister and sought permission to recuse herself from the NITI Aayog meeting,” the official said.
The PM said at the NITI Aayog meeting that the idea of $5 trillion economy is not a sudden development and it is based on a deep understanding of the strengths of the country, as per a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office. “The strong absorbent capacity of the Indian economy shows the strength of basic fundamentals of the economy and its capacity to bounce back,” he said.
NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar and CEO Amitabh Kant were present in the meeting that lasted nearly two hours. Sources said a push towards investments in the infrastructure sector as a means to promote overall economic growth came up for discussions. The gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate for the current fiscal is seen slumping to 5 per cent, the lowest since the 2008 economic crisis, according to latest data by the National Statistical Office (NSO). This means that GDP growth rate is expected to rise only marginally to 5.25 per cent during October-March, the second half of FY19-20, from 4.75 per cent in the first half.
The Centre is preparing a Budget amid divergent needs of pushing economic growth, achieving tax targets and staying the course on fiscal consolidation. The PM interacted with top business leaders recently to seek their inputs as his government prepares for the Budget. He has already invited ideas and suggestions from people for the Budget. “The Union Budget represents the aspirations of 130 crore Indians and lays out the path towards India’s development. I invite you all to share your ideas and suggestions for this year’s Budget on MyGov,” read a statement on the PM’s official website.
Among the economists and experts who attended Thursday’s meeting were Shankar Acharya, former chief economic adviser; Sonal Varma, Nomura’s chief India economist; Ashu Suyash, MD and CEO, CRISIL; Sanjay Nayar, member and CEO of KKR India; Pranjul Bhandari, chief India economist at HSBC Securities and Capital Markets; among others.