“This is a ‘no data available’ government,” said former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, February 8, over the ruling dispensation's failure to have the record on oxygen shortage deaths, corpses floating in rivers and migrants walking back home during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. Initiating a discussion on the Union Budget 2022-23, Chidambaram said unemployment is on the rise in the country and questioned the Union government over the steps taken for the welfare of the common people following reduced subsidies for petroleum, fertiliser, food, among others.
"Welfare has been thrown to the wind for 142 billionaires of this country,'' he said. Chidambaram spoke immediately after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reply to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President's address.
He said he was speaking eloquently about jobs and employment, and as on March 31, 2021, there were 8.72 lakh vacancies in the Union government and the government made 78,264 recruitments, leaving nearly 8 lakh vacancies. "This is the statistic I hope the Prime Minister will welcome and use in his next speech," he said.
On Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's budget speech, Chidambaram sarcastically said, “The thing I liked about the Finance Minister's budget speech is that it was the shortest speech of 90 minutes. I will also keep my reply very short," he said.
"I am a member of the 'Tukde Tukde' gang, which means disruption. I am worried because in this parliament, a question was asked: Who are members of the Tukde Tukde gang? And the honourable Minister said we have no data available on the Tukde Tukde gang'," he said.
No data is also available on oxygen shortage deaths, corpses floating in rivers, migrants walking back to their homes and doubling farmers income, which was supposed to happen in 2022, he said. "This is a ‘no data available’ government," Chidambaram said.
"But I have some data and want the House to look into it. Last year, the Finance Minister projected the 2021-22 fiscal deficit as 6.8%. I had cautioned them and said it will not be contained at 6.8% and said we would do better than it," he said, adding "They have done better than 6.8% and they have done 6.9%".
The senior Congress leader said similarly, the target for disinvestment was fixed at Rs 1.75 lakh crore and he had cautioned the government saying it would be "indiscriminate and mindless" disinvestment. "I am grateful to my government for accepting my caution and collecting only Rs 78,000 crore as against a target of Rs 1.76 crore," he said.
While on capital expenditure, the budget of 2021-22 estimated Rs 5.54 lakh crore, but the revised estimate came at Rs 6.27 lakh crore, which was a "pleasant surprise", he said. "Until we get into the final print and find that Rs 6.27 lakh crore includes a one-time debt payment of Air India of Rs 51,971 crore," he said.
It is not capital expenditure, but an amount of repaying the banks and after deduction, the amount comes around Rs 5.52 lakh crore, which is even lesser than the budget estimates, he said.
Chidambaram said two years ago, the government had promised to privatise PSUs such as BPCL, Container Corporation of India and Shipping Corporation of India. "There is no word in this year's budget on the matter. Last year, the Finance Minister had said that she would privatise two public sector banks and one insurance company and there is again no word about it in the budget," he added.
On the government's plan to raise Rs 6 lakh crore through National Monetisation Pipeline through selling old infrastructure, he said one year has passed and there is no word on that. "Railways said 151 passenger trains on 109 routes would be bid out to the private sector,” he said, adding that it was responded with zero bids. "Why do you make these announcements which you do not have capacity to execute?" he asked.
Referring to CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) data, Chidambaram said urban unemployment was 7.9%, while rural 6.54%, and the budget statement has just one reference about 60 lakh job creation and that is through Gati Shakti and infra projects in five years. "That is about 12 lakh jobs a year and the annual addition to the labour force is 47.5 lakh," he said, adding "What will the rest do? They will fry and sell pakodas."
In 2016-17, India's GDP grew 8.3% and in 2019-20, it slipped down to 3.7% and in FY 2020-21, the pandemic year, it slipped down. "In 2019-20, GDP in constant terms was Rs 145 lakh crore and 2020-21, the pandemic year, it came down to Rs 135 lakh crore. We are growing only when we go back to Rs 145 lakh crore," he said. On the government's claim of reaching pre-pandemic growth, Chidambaram said India is growing only when it gets back to Rs 145 lakh crore and grows higher and the country has not reached that stage.
The budget paper says that the nominal growth in 2022-23 would be 11.1% and the new Chief Economic Advisor has said real growth would be 8%. "The Finance Minister must clarify which is correct," he said.