In LS, Nirmala Sitharaman says Budget laid path for Aatmanirbhar Bharat, alleges Rahul Gandhi becoming 'doomsday man'

Sitharaman said the challenges of the pandemic did not deter government from undertaking reforms for maintaining long term goals of the country

FP Staff February 13, 2021 15:37:48 IST
In LS, Nirmala Sitharaman says Budget laid path for Aatmanirbhar Bharat, alleges Rahul Gandhi becoming 'doomsday man'

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman replied on the Union Budget in the Lok Sabha on Saturday. Lok Sabha TV

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, responding to a discussion on the Union Budget in Parliament, lambasted the Congress party on Saturday. She termed former finance minister P Chidambaram's criticism of the financial document 'verbose', while calling the party's former president a 'doomsday man'.

Sitharaman heaped praise on the Prime Minister for leading the country in times of pandemic with a 'clear-headed approach'. However, she did agree to allocate more funds to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme if needed, a common point of criticism made by several MPs across political lines.

Sitharaman defends Budget, promises more funds for MGNREGA if needed

Defending the Union Budget 2021 after a detailed discussion on the same in Lok Sabha, Sitharaman said the Union Budget 2021-122 has set the pace for India to become 'Aatmanirbhar'. The minister also said the challenges of the pandemic did not deter government from undertaking reforms for maintaining long term goals of the country.

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The reforms undertaken will lay the path for India to become one of those fastest-growing economies in the world, she said.

She said that it was the clear-headed approach taken by the government since the start that caused the pandemic to recede, adding that she will say so with some hesitancy given that the pandemic's progression was unpredictable.

With regards to increasing allocation for rural job guarantee scheme, the finance minister said the government will allocate more funds for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme for 2021-22, if needed, as against Budget estimate of Rs 73,000 crore.

MGNREGA, which promises 100 days of employment each year to every rural household in demand of work, was one of the tools that allowed rural India to absorb the initial shock caused by the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. The scheme had also received a Rs 40,000 crore boost under the Centre's Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package during the pandemic.

She also said that the Budget was designed to accommodate the welfare of the minorities, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. "Some members have questioned whether allocations for minority affairs, allocation for SC & ST has been reduced. No, they have not. Total allocation for minority affairs is Rs 4,811 crores in 2021-22 which is an 8.6 percent increase for the ministry, higher than actual expenditure. The overall allocation provided for welfare of Scheduled Castes has shown an increase from Rs 83,257 cr in 2020-21, compared to Rs 1,26,259 in 2021-22. Overall allocation provided for welfare of STs has also increased from Rs 53,653 cr from 2020-21 to Rs 79,942 cr in 2021-22," said Sitharaman.

FM slams Congress on Budget criticism

Hitting out at the Opposition, Sitharaman said the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi works for common people and not for crony capitalists. Attacking Rahul Gandhi for his criticism of government policies,  Sitharaman said that he is becoming a "doomsday man" for India by constantly insulting constitutional functionaries and creating fake narratives on various issues.

Responding to Gandhi's speech on Thursday, during which he talked about farm laws but declined to speak on the Budget, she said, "he is probably becoming a doomsday man for India." "We need to recognise these two tendencies of the Congress party... this makes it clear that their belief in a democratically elected parliamentary system is completely finished," Sitharaman said.

The minister further said that Gandhi laid the "foundation" but did not speak about the Budget during the discussion on it. Sitharaman said she wanted Gandhi to speak on 10 issues but was disappointed as the Congress leader made no mention of them.

"I wanted to know from the Congress why it took a U-turn on the farm laws but no reply came," she said, adding that Gandhi did not tell the House why Congress governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh did not waive farm loans promised in their manifesto.

Sitharaman further said Gandhi did not talk about the farmers issue in Punjab where Congress is in power and the steps being taken by the government with regard to stubble burning. Gandhi also did not refer to any clause in three agri bills which was against the farmers, she said.

Congress party is only concerned about "Hum Do and Hamare Do," Sitharaman said adding that she expected Gandhi to return the land which "Damadji" had taken from farmers at pittance.

Also, she added, Gandhi did not say anything about the statement of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who had advocated reform of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC). Sitharaman alleged that the Congress has joined the 'break India fringe group' and that it is continuously creating false narratives to 'demean India'.

Former finance minister Chidambaram was also in Sitharaman's line of fire. Participating in the discussion on the Budget in Upper House, Chidambaram had said that the Budget presented by Sitharaman was "for the rich, of the rich, and by the rich". He had also lashed out at the ruling dispensation, charging it with "incompetent economic management".

Sitharaman, in her reply in the Upper House, had termed Chidambaram's speech verbose and a poor attempt at copying Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu's style of oratory.

Earlier this month, the finance minister presented a Rs 34.5 lakh crore Budget for 2021-22 in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Budget, she said, has laid emphasis on increasing capital expenditure, raising allocation for healthcare capacity building and development of agriculture infrastructure, among others, which are expected to have a multiplier effect on the economy.

With inputs from PTI

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