Former finance minister P Chidambaram on Tuesday termed the Modi government as ‘no data available or NDA’ government as he tore into the FY23 Budget, saying it is short on welfare measures for the poor while crony capitalism has led to a surge in the number of billionaires and emergence of monopolies and duopolies.
Taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling the Congress party the leader of ‘tukde-tukde’ gang, Mr Chidambaram said tukde-tukde means disruption which creates innovation and brings about a change.
Initiating a discussion on Budget 2022-23 (FY23) in the Rajya Sabha, he said while there is no word on the implementation of announcements made in the previous budgets, the government claims India is running fast but it is actually running in the same place.
Speaking just after PM Modi replied to a separate discussion where he launched a fresh broadside against Congress, Mr Chidambaram said had the Congress not been there, Rajya Sabha would not have become the Council of the States and instead, there would have been a Council of the Princes where “regional rulers with their shining armours and flowing turbans” would have been “speaking in praise of Queen Elizabeth-II”.
“Thank God for the Congress, we have a Rajya Sabha,” he said.
He went on to criticise PM Modi for eloquently speaking about jobs but not talking about “the almighty Government of India” recruiting 78,264 persons against 8,72,243 vacancies in the central government, leaving nearly 8 lakh posts vacant.
“Disruption is a way for change and innovation. There is disruption today in business. There is a disruption in science. There is a disruption in technology. There is a disruption in every activity because disruption creates innovation and it creates the urge to bring about a change,” he said. “I am a member of the tukde-tukde gang which is the Hindi version of the word ‘disruption’.” Taking a jibe at the government, he said when a question was put in Parliament asking who are the members of the tukde-tukde gang, the concerned minister replied, “We have no data available on the tukde-tukde gang.” Not just that, “there is no data available on the oxygen shortage deaths. There is no data available on the bodies flowing on the rivers. There is no data available on how many migrants walked back to their homes. There is no data available on doubling farmers’ income which should have been done in 2022. This is a ‘no data available’ government, otherwise the NDA government,” he said.
The former finance minister said he supports the creation of wealth but to create work and promote welfare.
“India’s economy has not yet recovered to the level of pre-pandemic year. In the last two years, millions of jobs have been lost. Sixty lakh MSMEs have been closed down. 84 per cent of households have suffered a loss of income. Per capita income has declined,” he said.
Mr Chidambaram added that 4.6 crore people have been pushed into extreme poverty, India’s rank in the Global Hunger Index has fallen to 101 out of 116 countries, inflation is over 12 per cent and there is a flight of talent from the country.
“There are the emergence of monopolies and duopolies. There is crony capitalism. The top 10 per cent of India garner 57 per cent of the national income and holds 77 per cent of the nation’s wealth. Sir, 102 billionaires have become 142 billionaires and the 142 billionaires’ wealth has increased from Rs 23 lakh crore to Rs 53 lakh crore in two years,” he said.
The Budget has cut food, fuel and fertiliser subsidies, he said.
“Work has not been created and welfare has been thrown to the wind, and you say, ‘we are creating wealth’. You are creating wealth for whom, for the 142 billionaires or for the crony capitalists? Who are you creating wealth for? If wealth is not shared, what is the point of creating wealth?” This government, he said, has forgotten the poor.
“You have forgotten the poor. Let me end by saying that the poor will not forget you; the poor have long memories.” On the FY23 Budget, he said the best thing he liked in it was Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman delivering her shortest budget speech at 90 minutes. He then cited numbers to tear into the Budget.
“Last year, the Finance Minister projected the 2021-22 fiscal deficit at 6.8 per cent (of GDP). I cautioned, saying it will not be contained in 6.8 per cent. They said they will do better than 6.8 per cent. They have actually done better than 6.8 per cent. They have done 6.9 per cent,” he said.
Stating that he had cautioned against indiscriminate disinvestment when the target was fixed as Rs 1.75 lakh crore, he said the government accepted the caution and is collecting only Rs 78,000 crore.
The last budget projected a capital expenditure — which is being used by the government to boost the economy and crowd-in private investment — of Rs 5.54 lakh crore, which in the revised estimates was put at Rs 6.02 lakh crore.
However, this revised number incudes a one-time debt payment of Air India of Rs 51,971 crore. “That is not a capital expenditure. That is repayment to the bank,” he said. Deducting that, the expenditure at Rs 5.5 lakh crore is less than the budget estimate, he noted.
Mr Chidambaram said two years ago, the government promised to privatise BPCL, Container Corporation of India and Shipping Corporation of India. “There is no word in this year’s Budget on what progress they have made.” Also, there is no word on the finance minister’s announcement in the last budget of privatising two public sector banks and one insurance company, he said, adding there is no word on the so-called National Monetisation Pipeline which was suppose to raise Rs 6 lakh crore by selling old infrastructure over four years.
Zero bids have come in against the announcement of bidding out 151 passenger trains on 109 routes to private sector.
“Why do you make these announcements? Some of them are bad announcements. Some of them may be good announcements. Why do you make these announcements if you do not have the capacity to execute any of these announcements? That is why we don’t take these announcements seriously. We only look at the outcome budget,” he said.
The former finance minister, who is credited with delivering what is popularly known as the ‘dream budget’, said his party’s overarching economic philosophy is based on 3Ws – work, welfare and wealth.
“We are not against the creation of wealth. Wealth must be created but work and jobs must be created and welfare must be promoted,” he said, adding the PM Modi government promised 2 crore jobs a year but the FY23 Budget talks of creating 60 lakh jobs in five years through infrastructure spending.
“In 2016-17, India’s GDP grew by 8.3 per cent. In 2019-20, it slid down year by year to 3.7 per cent and in 2020-21, the pandemic year, we hit a recession. I would leave out that year but in four years, this Government has brought down the growth rate — pre-pandemic — from 8.3 per cent to 3.7 per cent,” he said.
In 2019-20, the GDP in constant terms was Rs 145 lakh crore. In 2020-21, the pandemic year, it came down to Rs 135 lakh crore.
“We are growing only when we go back to Rs 145 lakh crore. We have not reached that stage. The government claims that we are running fast but we are running fast to stay in the same place. You have to run fast to go ahead. You cannot run fast in the same place. This is not a treadmill,” he remarked.
The Budget, he said, projects nominal growth in 2022-23 at 11.1 per cent while the new Chief Economic Advisor has put the real growth at 8 per cent.
“Now, the finance minister must clarify to this House as to which is correct. Will nominal growth be 11.1 per cent and real growth be 8 per cent? In which event, is the finance minister assuring this House that inflation would be only about 3.1 per cent?,” he said.