The COVID-19 pandemic combined with the government's "short-sighted" policy decisions has ushered in a period of "uncertainty" for the economic revival of India, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
The country is witnessing "a crisis" amid the pandemic but its foundation has been laid by the government with its 2016 decision of demonetising Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes, he charged, while initiating a debate on the second batch of supplementary demand for grants for 2021-22. "Our nation's economy continues to battle the significant forces of disruption that were set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic and which can trace their way back in our country to the disaster of demonetisation," Tharoor said.
"While we all applaud the heroic efforts of our health workers, nurses, doctors and others in the medical fraternity, the truth is the virus combined with the short-sighted policy decisions of this government has ushered in a period of uncertainty for the economic revival of the country," he said. "We have been seeing crises everywhere we look. The foundations of the economy have been laid low ever since demonetisation," the Congress leader added.
Tharoor lashed out at the government over the budgetary allocations proposed in the Union Budget presented in February this year and said the government, with its supplementary demands for grants, has continued with its "usual combination" of "high rhetoric, grand ambition, exaggerated numbers and unrealistic targets, all diluted with underwhelming allocations to crucial sectors".
The supplementary demand for grants "clearly" indicates "a gross miscalculation" on the part of the government on expected expenditure, he charged, adding that "in doing so, it insults Parliament and undermines its control over the budget". "The current cash outgo clearly shows the government will be unable to stick to its own claimed targets of capping the fiscal deficit at 6.8 per cent of the GDP. They are going to exceed that," he said.
The gap between the expected revenue and expected expenditure is likely to "widen further" because disinvestment has not progressed the way the government had predicted, Tharoor said. "They have repeatedly failed to meet their disinvestment targets," he charged, He noted that a "significant component" of those demands for grants reflected Rs 6,257 crore for Air India Holding Assets Company Limited, which carries the burden of the majority of the debt the carrier was under.
"In other words, if the people think by privatising Air India the burden of a loss-making airline is off the hands of taxpayers, they better think again because we are going to be carrying that burden for a long time to come," the Congress MP said. The government remains liable for nearly Rs 46,000 crore of the accumulated debt and that, therefore, has been passed on to taxpayers, he said and took a swipe at the government noting, "Achche Din (good days) are going to be a wild coming, no question about it, if it comes at all."
Tharoor also hit out at the government over allocations earmarked for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), saying though the supplementary demands for grants propose to give modest boost to the scheme, the proposed allocation of Rs 2,239 crore reveals that the government continues to "grossly underestimate" the importance of the scheme "as a lifeline to rural India".
"Some money has been requested and I'm sure this House will gladly grant it. But, is it enough or is it too little, too late," he asked, adding, "The government slashed allocations for the scheme by 35 per cent in the budget that we approved earlier this year (in February)". The Congress leader also slammed the government over allocations made for the Women and Child Development Ministry, saying a parliamentary standing committee was forced to point out the gross under-utilisation of expenditure for important schemes like 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao'. "It is about Paise Bachao, Beti Dubao," he said.
-With PTI Inputs