Budget Jumla

Congress leader and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram speaking at a press conference in New Delhi Feb. 1. (IANS photo)

NEW DELHI — The Congress Feb. 1 slammed the Union Budget, calling the promise of Rs. 5 lakh for health care for poor families "a big jumla," and said there was "tokenism" on creating jobs and nothing to indicate a rise in farmers’ incomes.

Congress leader and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters here that the budget had no tax relief for the average tax payer and no measures to boost exports. He also expressed his deep disappointment about some major schemes being reduced to outlays. 

Referring to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's budget speech in which Jaitley said the government intends to launch a flagship national health protection scheme to cover 10 crore poor and vulnerable families, Chidambaram said it will entail huge costs and that the government has provided no money for the program. 

"The promise of Rs. 5 lakh per family for secondary and tertiary healthcare is a big jumla. The target group is 10 crore families. Assuming each family will avail of Rs. 50,000 – one tenth of Rs. 5 lakh – the amount required per year will be Rs. 5 lakh crore," he said. 

He said if insurance companies foot the bill, the estimated premium of Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 15,000 per family will require an expenditure of between Rs. 50,000 crore to Rs. 1.5 lakh crore per year. "Is the finance minister serious?" he asked. 

"Where is money provided? Money has not been provided even for paying the premium," Chidambaram said, adding that Jaitley and the National Democratic Alliance government have touted it as the world's biggest healthcare scheme.

The Congress leader said he did not hear any measures to boost exports in the budget speech. "Because the government has run out of ideas to boost exports, the finance minister has imposed additional customs duties. The prime minister's speech and the spirit of Davos has been forgotten within a few days," he said. 

Chidambaram said there is a promise to increase the minimum support price 1.5 times but there were no details. 

"The Swaminathan committee has been remembered in the last year of government's tenure. Besides, Rs. 2,000 crore for e-markets and Rs. 500 crore for operation Green, whenever the cabinet will approves the schemes, amounts to a pittance. There is nothing to indicate that farmers real income will rise," he said. 

The Congress leader said that agricultural distress will continue and deepen, "putting in peril lives of majority of people primarily dependent on agriculture."

Referring to jobs – an issue over which the Congress has frequently attacked the Modi government – Chidambaram said that Jaitley had no new ideas and "has fallen back on tried and failed Mudra scheme."

"The average size of Mudra loan is Rs. 43,000. This is tokenism and will not create even one job. More Mudra loans will mean more tokenism but no additional jobs."

He said there was nothing in the budget to boost private investments or to encourage banks to lend and investors to borrow for new investment. "The FM seems to have given up on private investment altogether," he said. 

Chidambaram said there is no tax relief for the average tax payer. 

"Only corporates with income up to Rs. 250 crore get tax relief of five percent. For individuals, standard deduction is back but long-term capital gains tax is also back," he said. 

"For the middle-class earner and saver, one cancels the other. Actually, by way of long term capital gains tax and four percent cess, the tax payers will pay the government Rs. 31,000 crore more whereas the gain through standard deduction will only be Rs. 8,000 crore," he added.

Chidambaram said major schemes that will get constant or reduced outlays include the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, the National Drinking Water Mission, Swachh Bharat mission, the National Health Mission, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, the interest subsidy for short-term farm credit, north eastern investment promotion, price stabilization fund and Gram Jyoti Yojana. 

"The most disappointing part of the budget is cut in the outlays of major schemes for 2018-19," he said, adding that Jaitley "will have much to explain" during debate on the budget in Parliament.

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