The Opposition on Thursday targetted the government over the agrarian crisis, unemployment, and other issues, with Congress leader P Chidambaram dubbing its economic policy as a "betrayal" of the country and saying all norms of fiscal prudence have been thrown out of the window.
The 40-minute speech of Chidambaram, who initiated the debate on the 2018-19 budget in the Rajya Sabha, witnessed continuous ruckus and sloganeering by ruling BJP members who sought an apology from the Congress for such disruptions during the Prime Minister's speech in Lok Sabha on Wednesday.
An unfazed Chidambaram continued to target the government in a loud pitch and sought replies to 12 questions relating to the economy, while describing minimum support price (MSP) for foodgrains, job creation and the Ayushman Bharat scheme as the three "Jumlas" (rhetoric) of the BJP-led government in its last full budget before the 2019 polls.
As soon as the Rajya Sabha convened at 2 PM after an almost 90-minute adjournment, several BJP members stood up and demanded an apology from the Congress for disrupting Prime Minister's Thursday speech.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad termed the ruckus in the House as a failure of the Government.
Derek O'Brien of Trinamool Congress charged the ruling party with disrupting the House, saying it does not have an answer to the issues relating to the Budget by the opposition.
To this, Kumar said "the government wants the House to run. We want to have a full discussion on the Budget but if there are issues disturbing the members, they have full right to raise the issue."
Amid loud protests by BJP, members from BJP ally TDP and YSR Congress stormed the Well carrying placards with slogans like "Help Fight for Justice to Andhra Pradesh" and "Keep Your Promise", demanding Special Status for the state.
Following the uproar, CPI(M) leader T K Rangarajan, who was in the Chair then, repeatedly appealed for order but was ultimately forced to adjourn the proceedings for 10 minutes.
However, the protests resumed as soon as the House reconvened, with Deputy Leader of Opposition Anand Sharma saying it is "most unfortunate" that the Parliamentary Affairs Minister was encouraging disruptions. He said the Congress had cooperated for a smooth functioning of the House after a word with the Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, but in vain.
Amid loud chants by BJP members saying the country will not tolerate the insult to the PM, Chidambaram said education, agriculture, health sectors and job creation were the major challenges facing the country and the BJP-led NDA Government had not addressed them in nearly four years of its rule.
Seeking replies from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on 12 questions emanating from the Budget and plaguing the economy, Chidambaram termed the government's economic policies as a "betrayal of the country", claiming that all norms of fiscal prudence "have been thrown out of the window".
"Before you assumed office, you promised 20 million (2 crore) jobs. A proper job is employment that is regular, certain and reasonably secure," he said, asking the BJP what its definition of a job was.
He questioned the government over how many ILO-defined jobs have actually been generated in the last four years.
Question 1. Budget 2018-19 has made the fiscal deficit worse: 3.5 per cent against 3.2 per cent in 2017-18 and 3.3 per cent against 3.0 per cent in 2018-19. What are the estimates of the Current Account Deficit for 2017-18 and 2018-19?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Question 2. Every deficit has breached the target set by the government. Will the impact of these high deficits be inflationary? Currently, WPI is 3.6 per cent and CPI is 5.2 per cent. What are the estimates of average WPI and average CPI for 2017-18 and 2018-19?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Question 3. The yield on 10-year treasury bond on 31 January 2018 was 7.43 per cent and it stood yesterday at 7.57 per cent. Is this a signal that interest rates will rise across all debt instruments? Will the rise in interest rates be inflationary?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Describing Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian as the "good doctor", Chidambaram said the Government should listen to his diagnosis prescribed in the Economic Survey. He said the Government was going to leave behind a limping economy.
The former Finance Minister asked whether the Government would cut the excise duty on petrol and diesel if global crude prices rise. He claimed that the NDA government believes hard- working individuals should be taxed and not the corporates.
Question 4. Suppose the price of crude oil rises to USD 70 or 75, how will it impact your budget estimates, especially the deficits? Will you raise the retail prices of petrol and diesel or will you cut the central excise duties on petrol and diesel?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Question 5. Government will borrow an additional Rs 48,000 crore in 2017-18. Add another Rs 37,000 crore that ONGC borrowed on behalf of the government. Where did this Rs— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
85,000 crore go?
Total expenditure in 2017-18 increased by Rs 71,000 crore, but revenue expenditure increased by 1,07,371 crore! Is this not evidence of a spendthrift government that has abandoned all norms of fiscal prudence?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Question 6. Capital expenditure was budgeted in 2017-18 for Rs 3,09,801 crore. The revised estimate is Rs 2,73,445 crore — a shortfall of Rs 36,000 crore. Which are the schemes and projects that took a hit in capital expenditure?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Question 7. For 2018-19, Government has estimated nominal GDP growth at 11.5 per cent. Is the additional 1 per cent due to higher inflation or higher growth? What is your estimate of real GDP growth in 2018-19?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Question 8. Before you assumed office, you promised 2 crore jobs a year. The ILO describes a proper job as employment that is certain, regular and reasonably secure. What is your definition of a job? How many ILO-described jobs were created in the four years of your government?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Question 9. In 2017-18, the budget estimates of customs duties was Rs 2,45,000 crore. The revised estimates show a drastic fall to Rs 1,35,242 crore. Is there a story there that you have not yet told the country and the people?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Question 10. GST came into effect on— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
1 July, 2017. Your GST revenue collection for 2017-18 is estimated at Rs 4,44,631 crore. Is this collection for 8 months (excluding March 2018) or for 9 months or for 11 months (as you have said repeatedly)?
Question 11. For 2018-19, you have projected that gross tax revenue will grow by 16.7 per cent when nominal GDP growth will be 11.5 per cent. Is the tax growth rate of 16.7 per cent realistic or ambitious or aggressive?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Question 12. For 2018-19, you have projected the following growth rates:— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) February 8, 2018
Corporation tax :- 10.15 per cent
Income tax :- 19.88 per cent
GST a whopping 67.31 per cent
Is there a philosophy of taxation that you wish to share with the people of India?
"We support Triple Talaq Bill but not these Triple Jumlas," he said, adding that the three "jumlas" (rhetoric) were regarding MSP for farmers, job creation and the Ayushman Bharat programme announced in the Budget to provide Rs 500,000 worth of annual cover in case of secondary and tertiary hospitalisation to 100 million families.
Accusing the government of "cheating" the farmers when it termed MSP as inflationary, he said "you can announce MSP but not all farmers will get MSP. Many farmers are forced to sell in the market. Will you pay them the difference between MSP and market price. Have you made a provision regarding this in the Budget."
Claiming that the Economic Survey has carefully avoided the issue of jobs, Chidambaram quoted data for three financial years from 2015-16 and said India was the first country in the world in which jobs increased when GDP growth had fallen.
"What kind of Jumla is this? Where are the jobs," he asked.
He also dubbed the Ayushman Bharat scheme as the "biggest jumla" of the government and said it had earlier announced the National Health Scheme which was not approved by the Cabinet and "quietly buried" and unveiled a new scheme now.
Laying out his calculations related to the annual premium contribution of Rs 1 trillion needed for implementing the Ayushman Bharat, he asked "from where will you (government) raise additional resources as the new cess has already been accounted for".
Defending the budget, BJP's Bhupender Yadav said there was policy paralysis during the UPA rule and accused the Congress of having misused constitutional institutions then.
He said the Companies Act framed by the UPA government was defective and had led to companies incurring losses and added that the NDA Government has plugged leakages in the delivery of subsidies, thereby removing corruption.