New Delhi: Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday strongly defended the data presented by her in Budget 2019 and asserted that her government was committed to fiscal consolidation without compromising on public expenditure even as the entire Opposition staged a walkout demanding rollback of the petrol and diesel price hike.
During the debate over the General Budget, Ms Sitharaman said several steps, including enhancing investments in infrastructure, liberalisation in the foreign direct investment policy and lowering of corporate taxes, were being taken to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25.
While replying to questions raised on discrepancies of data between the Budget and the Economic Survey, the finance minister ran into rough weather with the Opposition who demanded to know why there were differences in the figures.
Continuing her address, Ms Sitharaman said that all the data mentioned in the Budget is authentic. “I will assure the House there is no need for any speculation on figures given in Budget and every number is authentic,” she said.
“We will move GST Council to reduce the GST rate on e-vehicles from 12 per cent to 5 per cent,” she said, adding “we will work with states for supplying tap water to all in rural household by 2024”. The minister added that the finance ministry has taken into account 12 per cent nominal GDP growth to ensure compatibility with the projections made in the interim Budget. When some members objected to her statement, she said: “Even if I am mocked at, sometimes I spoke like a teacher to a class of students...And even if that is not sufficient I am quite happy to receive members to room number 36 with due respect”.
This created a furore among Opposition parties who demanded that all explanations should be given on the floor of the House and that MPs should not be seen as students and the minister as a teacher.
Conrgess Leader of the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said: “It is our right to seek clarfification. This is our room”.
The Opposition members also asked Speaker Om Birla to expunge the portion. To this, the Speaker said he would look into the records and remove objectionable content.
Soon thereafter, Mr Chowdhury raised the issue of hike in petrol and diesel prices and demanded a rollback. Other Opposition leaders, specially from Congress, joined in and when the minister continued her speech, the entire Opposition, including NCP, BSP, Congress, DMK staged a walkout.
The Trinamul Congress, however, walked out a minute later after its leader Sudip Bandopadhyay objected to the words used by Ms Sitharaman. He also questioned the minister on Zero Budget saying earlier it used to be either a deficit Budget or a surplus Budget. “We do not know what is a Zero Budget”.
To this, the minister replied that she had only spoken of Zero Budget agriculture, but Mr Bandopadhyay had already walked out by then.
However, despite the Opposition ruckus and subsequent walkout, the finance minister did not comment on the hike in petrol and diesel cess proposed in the Budget. Following the decision, the petrol price went up by a minimum of Rs 2.40 per litre and diesel by a minimum of Rs 2.36 per litre.
During her Budget speech on Friday, Ms Sitharaman had proposed to raise excise duty and road and infrastructure cess on petrol and diesel by Rs 2 per litre each to raise Rs 24,000-28,000 crore on an annual basis.
“The government is committed to the path of fiscal consolidation without compromising on the public expenditure placed by the various sectors,” she said.
She mentioned that the government was committed to push infrastructure development and invest over Rs 100 lakh crore in the next five years and claimed that the government has increased Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all 22 commodities.