Finance Minister defends govt in discussion over taxation in House.
New Delhi: Facing flak from all quarters due to the downward slide of the economy, worrying GDP numbers and India Inc’s sense of fear at criticising the government’s economic performance and policies, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharama on Monday tried to defend herself and the Narendra Modi government by doling out tax collection and loan figures and insisting that all efforts were being made to improve the situation.
Replying to members in the Lok Sabha during a discussion on the Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill, that brings down corporate taxes, Ms Sitharaman said her government was open to criticism, but people had not given her enough time to settle down before judging her.
“People have called me the worst finance minister without waiting for me to finish even six months in office… We are a government that listens, whether it is criticism or an input. When the home minister responded to an industry leader, it was with a clear attitude that we are willing to hear or take criticism. This government responds and listens to criticism with positivity,” Ms Sitharaman said in the Lok Sabha.
She had earlier on Monday tweeted praise for home minister Amit Shah’s response to industrialist Rahul Bajaj’s controversial comment. While saying that questions and criticism are answered and addressed by the Modi government, the finance minister, however, cautioned that adding personal impressions can “hurt the national interest” if they gain traction.
“Home minister Amit Shah answers on how issues raised by Shri Rahul Bajaj were addressed. Questions/criticisms are heard and answered/addressed. Always a better way to seek an answer than spreading one’s own impressions which, on gaining traction, can hurt the national interest,” she said.
The Opposition parties on Monday used the debate on the Taxation Bill to highlight the gloomy economic situation and pin the government down for neither consulting people nor listening to criticism. The latest GDP figures show growth has slumped to a six-year low of 4.5 per cent.
The finance minister said that a slew of measures taken by her government, including corporate tax, would help small and big businesses and bring in “maximum” foreign direct investment into the country. Reducing the corporate tax rate, she added, was aimed at attracting investment and creating jobs.
BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, however, came up with a bizarre argument. He said that GDP figures were not gospel truth, like the Bhagvad Gita or the Bible, adding that these figures would not be of any use in the future.
Responding to the “Suit-Boot Ki Sarkar” barb, Ms Sitharaman said: “We’re told that lowering corporate tax helps only the rich. I want to tell them that the corporate tax cut helps all small and big businesses registered according to the Companies Act.”
The Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill seeks to replace the ordinance that was promulgated by the President in September. The government had, through the ordinance, reduced the corporate tax rate from 30 to 22 per cent, and for new manufacturing companies to 15 per cent. Companies opting for lower tax rates, however, are not entitled to claim any rebate or deductions.
“The economic slowdown is not accepted by the ruling party,” said DMK MP A. Raja, who added that world-renowned Indian economists like Raghuram Rajan, Urjit Patel, Arvind Subramaniam and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were not happy with the present economic scenario, nor were they backing the government’s policies. The Opposition blamed poor implementation of GST and demonetisation as the key reasons for the present economic slump.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury blamed the lack of a long-term vision by the Modi government for the slowdown in the country’s growth, and even wondered whether it would be apt to call Nirmala Sitharaman as “Nirbala” (weak) to reiterate how helpless the FM is as she cannot take her own decisions despite being the finance minister.
Responding to Mr Chowdhury, Ms Sitharaman said she is “Nirmala (pure), and will remain Nirmala, not Nirbala (weak)… In our party women are Sabla (strong) and together we can be Bala (problem) for others.” She added she had met Dr Singh and former President Pranab Mukherjee (also a former finance minister) for consultations.
While replying to members, the FM, instead of giving a concrete roadmap to improve the economic situation or giving sufficient reasons for the slump, tried to deflect the Opposition’s questions and criticism by making political statements. In the process, without naming Robert Vadra, she also took a dig at the Gandhi family, saying her government has done a lot to benefit the poor and common people and not to benefit “Jija” (brother-in-law).
Mr Vadra is commonly addressed derisively as “Jijaji” by BJP leaders. “8 cr people got gas connections under Ujjwala. Who are the 68 lakhs beneficiaries of Ayushman Bharat? Who are those 11 crore people who got toilets in their houses? Are they someone’s ‘damaad’ (son-in-law) or Jija? We don’t have Jijas in our party. We only have karyakartas (workers),” Ms Sitharaman said.