The Opposition today targetted the government over agrarian crisis, unemployment and other issues, with Congress leader P Chidambaram dubbing its economic policy as a “betrayal” of the country and saying all norms of fiscal prudence have been thrown out of the window. The 40-minute speech of Chidambaram, who initiated the debate on the 2018-19 budget in the Rajya Sabha, witnessed continuous ruckus and sloganeering by ruling BJP members who sought an apology from the Congress for such disruptions during the Prime Minister’s speech in Lok Sabha yesterday. An unfazed Chidambaram continued to target the government in a loud pitch and sought replies to 12 questions relating to the economy, while describing minimum support price (MSP) for foodgrains, job creation and the Ayushman Bharat scheme as the three “Jumlas” (rhetoric) of the BJP-led government in its last full budget before the 2019 polls. Taking a dig, the former Finance Minister also asked whether the government will suggest the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to include those selling pakodas in its definition for employment.
As soon as the Rajya Sabha convened at 2 PM after an almost 90-minute adjournment, several BJP members stood up and demanded an apology from the Congress for disrupting the Prime Minister’s speech in the Lok Sabha yesterday. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar supported them, saying the main Opposition party must apologise for its conduct during the PM’s speech in the Lower House yesterday. Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad termed the ruckus in the House as a failure of the Government. Derek O’Brien of Trimanool Congress charged the ruling party with disrupting the House, saying it does not have any answer to the issues relating to the Budget by the opposition. To this, Kumar said “the government wants the House to run. We want to have a full discussion on the Budget but if there are issues disturbing the members, they have full right to raise the issue.”
Amid loud protests by BJP, members from BJP ally TDP and YSR Congress stormed the Well carrying placards with slogans like “Help Fight for Justice to Andhra Pradesh” and “Keep Your Promise”, demanding Special Status for the state. Following the uproar, CPI(M) leader T K Rangarajan, who was in the Chair then, repeatedly appealed for order but was ultimately forced to adjourn the proceedings for 10 minutes. However, the protests resumed as soon as the House reconvened, with Deputy Leader of Opposition Anand Sharma saying it is “most unfortunate” that the Parliamentary Affairs Minister was encouraging disruptions. He said the Congress had cooperated for smooth functioning of the House after a word with the Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, but in vain. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Prime Minister was disturbed for two hours while he spoke in Lok Sabha and claimed that such a thing has never happened in 70 years.
Amid loud chants by BJP members saying the country will not tolerate the insult to the PM, Chidambaram said education, agriculture, health sectors and job creation were the major challenges facing the country and the BJP-led NDA Government had not addressed them in nearly four years of its rule. Seeking replies from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on 12 questions emanating from the Budget and plaguing the economy, Chidambaram termed the government’s economic policies as a “betrayal of the country”, claiming that all norms of fiscal prudence “have been thrown out of the window”. “Before you assumed office, you promised 2 crore jobs. A proper job is employment that is regular, certain and reasonably secure,” he said, asking the BJP what its definition of a job was. He questioned the government over how many ILO-defined jobs have actually been generated in the last four years.
Describing Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian as the “good doctor”, Chidambaram said the Government should listen to his diagnosis prescribed in the Economic Survey. He said the Government was going to leave behind a limping economy. The former Finance Minister asked whether the Government would cut the excise duty on petrol and diesel if global crude prices rise. He claimed that the NDA government believes hard-working individuals should be taxed and not the corporates. “We support Triple Talaq Bill but not these Triple Jumlas,” he said, adding that the three “jumlas” (rhetoric) were regarding MSP for farmers, job creation and the Ayushman Bharat programme announced in the Budget to provide Rs 5 lakh worth of annual cover in case of secondary and tertiary hospitalisation to 10 crore families.
Accusing the government of “cheating” the farmers when it termed MSP as inflationary, he said “you can announce MSP but not all farmers will get MSP. Many farmers are forced to sell in the market. Will you pay them the difference between MSP and market price. Have you made a provision regarding this in the Budget.” Claiming that the Economic Survey has carefully avoided the issue of jobs, Chidambaram quoted data for three financial years from 2015-16 and said India was the first country in the world in which jobs increased when GDP growth had fallen. “What kind of Jumla is this? Where are the jobs,” he asked. He also dubbed the Ayushman Bharat scheme as the “biggest jumla” of the government and said it had earlier announced the National Health Scheme which was not approved by the Cabinet and “quietly buried” and unveiled a new scheme now.
Laying out his calculations related to the annual premium contribution of Rs 1 lakh crore needed for implementing the Ayushman Bharat, he asked “from where will you (government) raise additional resources as the new cess has already been accounted for”. Defending the budget, BJP’s Bhupender Yadav said there was policy paralysis during the UPA rule and accused the Congress of having misused constitutional institutions then. He said the Companies Act framed by the UPA government was defective and had led to companies incurring losses and added that the NDA Government has plugged leakages in the delivery of subsidies, thereby removing corruption.