The principal Opposition Congress party dismissed the Narendra Modi government’s Budget for 2018-19 ~ presented in Parliament by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday ~ as “big disappointment and letdown”.

Senior Congress leader and ex-FM P Chidambaram made a scathing critique of the Budget, blowing holes in it on multiple grounds.

Pointing to a “dismal” state of India’s economy and looming challenges in sectors like agriculture, creation of jobs, investment, manufacturing, and exports, Chidambaram, while citing figures from the government’s recent Economic Survey in this regard, said, “The Budget proposals should have been bold and radical, and backed by adequate provision of funds. Unfortunately, they are a big letdown.”
He charged that the “big disappointments” in the Budget involved “fiscal deficit, exports, agriculture, health care, jobs, investment and credit, tax relief and slashing allocations”.

“The FM failed the fiscal consolidation test…Both these slippages (fiscal deficit targets for 2017-18 and 2018-19) will have serious consequences and raise grave doubts about India’s commitment to fiscal consolidation,” he said.

Chidambaram dismissed as “big jumla (empty rhetoric)” the Budget’s promise of Rs 5 lakh cover per family per year for 10 crore poor and vulnerable families for their secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation under a flagship National Health Protection Scheme.

“Assuming that 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! If the insurance companies will foot the bill, the premium at Rs 5000-15,000 per family will require an outgo of Rs 50,000 -1,50,000 crore per year. Is the FM serious?” Chidambaram asked.

He said the Budget did not have any measures to boost exports and that FM Jaitley has “(rather) imposed additional customs duties to restrict imports”. “The PM’s speech at ~ and the spirit of ~ Davos has been forgotten within a few days!” he quipped.

“There is a promise to increase MSP (for Kharif crops) 1.5 times, but there are no details…There is nothing to indicate that farmers’ real income will rise. Farm sector distress will continue and deepen, putting in peril the lives of a majority of the people primarily dependent on agriculture,” Chidambaram charged.

As regards jobs, he said, “The FM has no new ideas and has fallen back on the tried and failed Mudra scheme. The average size of the Mudra loan is Rs 43,000. This is tokenism and will not create even one job.”
He also charged that there was “nothing” in the Budget to boost private investment, and “to encourage banks to lend, and investors to borrow, for new investment”.

Chidambaram asserted that the Budget did not provide for any tax relief to average tax-payer. “For individuals, standard deduction is back, but Long Term Capital Gains Tax is also back. For the middle class earner and saver, one cancels the other.”

The former FM said, “The most disappointing part of the Budget is the cut in the outlays on major schemes” this fiscal. “Some important schemes that will get constant or reduced outlays are: MGNREGA, PMAY, National Drinking Water Mission, Swachh Bharat Mission, National Health Mission, Midday Meals Scheme, Interest Subsidy for Short Term Farm Credit, Northeastern Investment Promotion…and Gram Jyoti Yojana,” he said.

Castigating the Budget, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “4 years gone; still promising farmers a fair price. 4 years gone; fancy schemes with no matching budgets. 4 years gone; no jobs for our youth. Thankfully, only 1 more year to go.”