Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday said the Union government’s plan for a $5 trillion Indian economy by 2025 is achievable and realistic. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha in response to the discussion on the Budget, Sitharaman said having a $5 trillion economy is a mid-course target in the longer ten-year vision she had laid out while delivering her Budget speech.
The Budget discussion lasted for over 12 hours in the Upper House, with 63 members speaking on the subject. Taking her time to respond, Sitharaman spoke for more than 90 minutes, devoting a large part of her time to the points raised by former finance minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram.
Sitharaman said Chidambaram, who was not present in the House on Friday, had “slighted, mocked and ridiculed” the government and raised apprehensions about the targets set by it. She said that all the targets, whether about GST collections, Income Tax, or inflation were realistic and achievable.
Taking umbrage over Chidambaram’s comment that the economy doubles every few years, Sitharaman asked “If that is indeed the case, why are all of us here, why should there be a government?” She questioned if that was the reason why “during the UPA (regime), no attention was given to the economy, but scandals were going on, all attention was there, economy will anyway double, we will concentrate on doing what we need to, increase our personal incomes.”
She said that Chidambaram, in his speech a day earlier, had quoted a lot figures, which were “attractive” and “captivating”. She then countered several figures the former finance minister had mentioned in his speech.
Regarding Chidambaram’s grouse that the government had not brought structural reforms, Sitharamam quoted 16 steps taken by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government in the last five years, including Aadhaar-based Direct Benefit Transfer, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, an amalgamation of public sector banks, and GST.
As members of the Opposition stated that GST was brought in with their support, Sitharaman took a jibe at Congress and said that had called it Gabbar Singh Tax and yet want to take credit for it.
Burnishing the government’s effective handling of the economy, Sitharaman pointed out that her government had not allowed inflation to “raise its dirty head to cause inconvenience to the consumers” and said the “complete control over inflation is the achievement” of the government in the last five years and since being re-elected. The government, she said, has been prudent, adding, “I want to assure this House that my fiscal discipline does not mean that I have cut on social welfare projects at all.”
She said, “The projections made in the Budget are realistic and are adequately provided for, particularly for items of expenditure such as defence expenditure, pensions and salaries, internal security and other welfare programmes and establishment expenditures of the Government.”
Sitharaman said that apart from the government’s focus on agriculture in the Budget, there is a plan to increase investments by further liberalisation of FDI rules, lowering of corporate tax to 25 per cent for companies with a Rs 400 crore or lower turnover, exemptions in tax on electric, among other ideas.