Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. (File photo)
New Delhi: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday spent almost half her speech in making a point by point rebuttal to Congress leader and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who raised doubts over government's vision of making India a $5 trillion economy in five years.
She spent almost 45 minutes of her 102-minute reply to the debate on the union budget in the Rajya Sabha to the points raised by the former finance minister.
Sitharaman alleged that if the country's economy would double every five years by itself, as claimed by Chidambaram, then why during the UPA government no attention was given to the economy and scandals kept happening.
The minister said she would love to learn a lot of lessons from every former finance minister and highlighted that some shortcomings during Chidambaram's time were handled by this government. These included curbing high inflation, introducing corrective measures pertaining to voluntary disclosure of income scheme and sale of participatory notes abroad, she said.
Sitharaman said the targets set by her government in this regard were backed with a plan and were totally realistic and achievable, without cutting down on social sector spending.
Taking on Chidambaram for his comment that even money lenders can tell that economy will automatically double every five years by a mere mathematical calculation, she said, "If that is indeed the case, why are all of us here? Why should there be a government?"
"Is that why during the UPA no attention was given to the economy, but scandals were going on, all attention was there, economy will anyway double, we will concentrate on doing what we need to – increase our personal incomes. What is the former finance minister trying to imply," she asked.
Sitharaman said she is grateful to Chidambaram and appreciated his gracious step that he would not be here when she replies to the debate on the Budget.
She said specifically on pointed issues she wanted to respond and that it is important as the former finance minister spoke on a lot of matters which are absolutely relevant.
"In some of the best Parliamentary practices, I do place my best appreciation. He had raised a lot of issues, of course in his suave, soft and very very well-read, and being a very experienced Finance Minister has said a lot of things, on which I will definitely want to reply, point by point," she said.
The Finance Minister said Chidambaram had quoted a lot of figures and they are attractive. "They are also captivating to say that wow, this has put the government on the mat. This is experience speaking. Can I take him lightly, not at all."
"I love to learn a lot of lessons from every former finance minister but just because former finance minister (Chidambaram) has slighted our targets, (he) didn't think it had any virtue, I just want to say that I want to learn from his kaaryakaal (tenure) as finance minister," she noted.
"I am sorry for having made an observation like that,” she said.
Referring to Chidambaram, she said he had "slighted, mocked, ridiculed" the NDA government. "Let me ask in the first 60 years of this country, did it double every two years. Hindu rate of growth was accused on us. Why did it not double at that time, that was the time of Congress government. The contempt, the slight, the indifference, the subtle tongue in cheek (was there)", she said.
She also rebutted Chidambaram over his claim that this government had not initiated any structural reforms and listed a host of such reforms including the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, amalgamation of public sector banks and 'Start-up India and Stand-Up India' campaigns.
This government, the minister said, brought radical changes in the FDI policy regime and direct benefit transfer through use of Aadhaar that helped save crores from pilferage, besides proposing the idea of a social stock exchange.
"The former FM mentioned only four reforms including abolition of licence raj, but we have listed 16....The GST is the biggest reform we have done. Isn't that a structural reform," she said.
Observing that GST was the biggest reform brought by this government, she said for passing it the Congress created a lot of obstruction and their prominent leaders continue to call it "Gabbar Singh tax".
"You supported Gabbar Singh Tax and you still want to take credit for it, you can do so," she said in a dig at the Congress.
Pointing to the voluntary disclosure scheme introduced by Chidambaram when he was the finance minister, Sitharaman said the Controller and Auditor General of India had condemned the scheme saying it is "abusive and fraud" and the genuine taxpayers have "suffered".
"Shouldn't I be learning a lesson," she asked, while raising the issue of credit culture in 2008 that put the burden on the country's economy later.
"In order to earn some brownie points, the then finance minister for containing fiscal deficit within the budgeted 4.8 per cent of the GDP left a huge burden of unpaid bills on the next government which was our government in 2014.”