Soon after Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented the Union Budget for 2018-19, Opposition parties came down heavily on the government.
The Congress called the Budget a big let down, which it feels should have been bold, radical and backed by adequate provisions of funds. Former finance minister P Chidambaram took pot shots at the the government: “It is the last full budget of this government, and I should add thank god for that.”
Recalling the economic context in which the Budget had been presented, Chidambaram said he drew his facts from the Economic Survey presented on 29 January. He claimed that the Real Effective Exchange Rate has appreciated about 21% since 2014, which has in turn affected India's export competitiveness and accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of favouring a stronger, less effective exchange rate.
Further, he added that the last four years have witnessed the level of real agricultural GDP and revenues have remained constant. Calling jobs as the number one issue in the country, Chidambaram added that not enough jobs are being created particularly in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME): “Industrial GVA growth has declined from 9.8% in 2015-16 to 6.8% in 2016-17 to 2.7% in 2017-18. In the same period, Manufacturing GVA has declined from 12.7% to 7.9% to 3.1%.
Addressing the issue of fiscal deficit, Chidambaram accused Jaitley of failing the fiscal consolidation test and highlighted how all deficits have crossed the budget estimates. “Against the BE fiscal deficit target for 2017-18 of 3.2, the final number will be 3.5. Even that is questionable. Similarly, for 2018-19, against the target of 3.0, FM has pegged it at 3.2. Both these slippages will have serious consequences and raise grave doubts about India's commitment to fiscal consolidation.”
Reacting to Jaitley's announcement of increasing the MSP by 1.5 times, the former finance minister said there are no details about this announcement. Further, he criticised the government for remembering the recommendations of Swaminathan Committee in the last year of its tenure.
In wake of these announcements made for agriculture by the government, Chidambaram said there is no indication that the farmers' real income will witness any rise.
“Farm sector distress will continue and deepen, putting in peril the lives of a majority of the people primarily dependent on agriculture,” he added.
Meanwhile, CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury called the MSP on Kharif a fraud and tweeted, “Fraud of MSP only for Kharif i.e. Elections: Cost of production used by govt does not include costs of family labour and land rent, which is the global norm. We reiterate our demand for bringing a law giving farmers the Right to Sell at MSP.”
Lambasting the Budget, Yechury called it a textbook exercise in post-truth, which is unconnected to ground realities. He further added that the promise of increasing farmers' incomes remains unfulfilled with input costs conveniently ignoring the rising cost of fuel.
Accusing the government of abandoning state responsibilities towards health and education, Yechury said the government is burdening people mercilessly by hiking cess.
Why this Budget is Jumlanomics. Spin and Slogans, not substance. pic.twitter.com/nqv7meHWHk— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) February 1, 2018
Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress labelled the whole Budget exercise as “super flop and big bluff show” and pointed how there are no mechanism to implement these announcements. TMC spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member Derek O Brien said people have lost trust and have zero faith in the BJP government and after the Budget their credibility is “now zero”.
SP leader and former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav too was critical of the Budget, calling it a destructive budget that has turned a blind eye towards the problems of the common man. “In its last Budget, the BJP has proved that it is the party of the rich and the common man will respond appropriately,” he said.
गरीब-किसान-मजदूर को निराशा; बेरोजगार युवाओं को हताशा; कारोबारियों, महिलाओं, नौकरीपेशा और आम लोगों के मुँह पर तमाचा. ये जनता की परेशानियों की अनदेखी करने वाली अहंकारी सरकार का विनाशकारी बजट है. आख़री बजट में भी भाजपा ने दिखा दिया कि वो केवल अमीरों की हिमायती है. अब जनता जवाब देगी.— Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) February 1, 2018
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also expressed his anguish at the Budget pointing how it has nothing for the middle class and the traders which he said have been completely ignored. He also accused the Central government of meting out a step motherly treatment to Delhi.
I had expected some financial assistance to important infrastructure projects for national capital. Am disappointed that Centre continues its step-motherly treatment to Delhi— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) February 1, 2018
Meanwhile, Jailtey also announced an ambitious healthcare insurance scheme wherein 10 crore families have been promised an insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh per family for secondary and tertiary healthcare. Responding to the announcement, Chidambaram called it a big jumla and questioned Jaitley's seriousness.
“Assuming that each family would avail of Rs 50,000 (one-tenth of Rs 5 lakh), the amount required per year will be Rs 5 lakh crore! If the insurance companies will foot the bill, the premium of Rs 5,000-15,000 per family will require an outgo of Rs 50,000-1,50,000 crore per year. Is the FM serious?” he asked.
Further, he dismissed the Budget saying that it has nothing for private investment which could encourage banks to lend, and investors to borrow, for new investment. “The FM seems to have given up on private investment all together,” Chidmabaram said.
According to the former finance minister, the most disappointing part has been the cut in the outlays on major schemes for 2018-19. “Some important schemes that will get constant or reduced outlays are: MGNREGA, PMAY, National Drinking Water Mission, Swachh Bharat Mission, National Health Mission, Mid-day Meals Scheme, interest subsidy for short term farm credit, Northeastern Investment Promotion, Price Stabilisation Fund and Gram Jyoti Yojna,” he said while adding that Jaitley will have lot to explain when Parliament debates the Budget next week.
Edited by Joyjeet Das