Minister rejects opposition charge of underfunding key welfare schemes
The Union budget seeks to ensure transparency in accounting and foster medium-to-long-term growth, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her response to the budget discussion in Rajya Sabha, rejecting opposition charges of underfunding key welfare schemes.
The minister defended the budget saying that while the government offered relief to the poor and the needy, the approach was to give a stimulus that will deliver a multiplier effect rather than going for short-term fixes.
Sitharaman underlined the fact that the practice of issuing off-budget bonds to state-run oil refiners, fertilizer companies and the Food Corporation of India has been discontinued.
Sitharaman said the ₹10,000 crore reduction in funds meant for income support to farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan (PM Kisan) scheme in FY21 from the original budget estimate for the current fiscal and allocation of funds at that level for next year was because West Bengal had not shared the list of beneficiaries, and was, thus, not covered under the scheme.
The minister said ₹1.15 trillion was transferred to the bank accounts of 107.5 million farmer families under the scheme since its inception in FY20.
“One of the main reasons for rationalization is that in the allocation of PM Kisan scheme, approximately 6.9 million estimated farmers from West Bengal have not received any benefits under the scheme. We had taken them on board, but when the provision cannot be utilized because their list was not even given to us, obviously, in the revised estimates, the number will be different, and the provision (of funds) that we will have to make for the next year will also be dependent on it," the minister explained.
Sitharaman’s reference to West Bengal comes after chief minister Mamata Banerjee, earlier this week, alleged that the Centre withheld funds to farmers in the state. West Bengal is among the states going for assembly polls this year.
Former finance minister P. Chidambaram said in Rajya Sabha on Thursday that the government continues to believe that supply-side responses will turn the economy around, arguing that the best way to stimulate demand was to put money in the hands of the people.
Chidambaram also charged that the budget was for the rich, of the rich and by the rich, and that it did nothing for the poor.
Sitharaman explained that the idea was to offer short-term relief to people who desperately needed it and, at the same time, provide a strong stimulus that will deliver a multiplier effect on growth. Therefore, instead of finding short-term solutions, the government opted to support medium-to-long-term sustainable growth, which will keep India on a trajectory of being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, she said.
The minister referred to schemes offering free food, cooking gas and cash transfers to people as immediate relief. “ ₹2.76 trillion of PM Garib Kalyan Yojana was very much needed," she said.
She also referred to the 16.7 million houses built for the poor, the 26.7 million houses electrified and the ₹8.2 trillion worth of orders placed on the government e-marketplace for the benefit of micro, small and medium businesses.
With Sitharaman’s reply, Rajya Sabha concluded the first part of the budget session, and the House was adjourned till the morning of 8 March.
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