Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram was scathing in his reaction to the Union Budget on Saturday. Asked how he would rate the budget on a scale of one to ten, he replied that 10 had both one and a zero, so he wouldn’t mind either.
Replying to questions at a media interaction at the AICC office, Chidambaram made the following points:
1. While President Ram Nath Kovind had made no mention of employment in his address on Friday, the Economic Survey had made the extraordinary claim that the number of new firms registered had increased by 12.2% in the last five years. Are these firms on a different planet, he asked sarcastically, saying the budget also had failed to address the problem of unemployment.
2. Jobs, he held, are largely created by mining, construction and the manufacturing sectors. But the Budget had little to offer to any of these sectors.
3. The decision to disinvest the Government’s share in the Life Insurance Corporation of India, he said, was debatable. LIC was a successful PSU, competitive and had done well in the face of competition from private insurance companies. Every PSU need not be privatised. Congress would study the issue and raise it in Parliament, he said.
4. How could the Finance Minister call it a caring budget after chopping the food and fertiliser subsidies, he wondered. Only after the numbers are studied will the country know how caring or uncaring this Government is, he quipped.
5. The FM had spoken of issuing sovereign bonds abroad last year also but had backed off. Since then the external environment has become more unfavourable. The FM could have tested the water by allowing a semi-sovereign body like State Bank of India to raise money abroad.
2. Asked to comment on the increased allocation for the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, he said that Kashmir needed freedom and restoration of Human Rights first.
6. Blaming the Government for first criminalising civil offences and then talking of decriminalising them, the former finance minister said that in the last few years, the Government had empowered the lowest government functionary with extraordinary powers of extortion, harassment and oppression.
7. The budget, he said, would have disappointed the Chief economic Advisor since the FM does not appear to have accepted even a single suggestion made by him in the Economic Survey.
8. Did the CEA had prior knowledge of the budget or did the FM read the Economic Survey, he wondered aloud before saying that the answer seemed to be in the negative.
9. It was strange that the Finance Minister went on and on to speak on the Sindhu Saraswati civilisation but ignored a single reference to the Dravidian civilisation.