Former finance minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday said that the Congress party is disappointed with the first installment of the overarching Rs. 20 lakh crore package announced by the Centre to combat the economic fallout of coronavirus crisis. Reacting to the slew of relief measures announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman for various sectors, Chidambaram said the “government is a prisoner of its own ignorance and fears” and asserted that there is “absolutely nothing… for the lakhs of poor, hungry and devastated migrant workers” in the measures announced on Wednesday.
The Congress leader also slammed the Centre for “refusing to acknowledge” the ongoing migrant crisis in the country. Responding to a question by Outlook on Centre’s claim that the earlier Rs. 1.75 lakh crore Garib Kalyan package announced by the government during the initials days of the lockdown had succeeded in transferring cash and free rations to the poor, Chidambaram said, “there is a huge humanitarian crisis; something that the country has not seen since 1948… the government refuses to acknowledge it”.
The former finance minister added that “the FM did not include the Rs. 1.75 lakh crore package in the Rs. 20 lakh crore package… I hope she doesn’t include it because if she does, that would become the subject of another debate. I have pointed out earlier that the Rs. 1.75 lakh crore is actually worth only Rs. 1 lakh crore – Rs. 60,000 crore in terms of cash transfer and Rs. 40000 crore in terms of grain transfer. If she wants to include this in the Rs. 20 lakh crore package, she can, but I sincerely hope that she won’t.”
The criticism by the Congress leader came shortly after Sitharaman and her deputy, Anurag Thakur, announced a Rs. 3 lakh crore credit guarantee fund and collateral free loan programme aimed at the MSME sector along with various measures to ease the burden of the economic fallout of the health pandemic on the NBFCs, discoms, real estate sector and employer contributions to the EPF. The announcement came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the nation that his government had prepared a Rs. 20 lakh crore economic package – equivalent to 10 per cent of India’s GDP – and that details of this will be shared by the finance minister over the next few days.
The Congress leadership, particularly Rahul Gandhi, has been demanding a robust stimulus package to help the MSME sector and had earlier sent recommendations to the Centre outlining urgent measures that needed to be taken. Rahul has also been insisting that the government immediately announce a Rs. 65,000 crore relief package for the bottom half of India’s population and initiate a direct cash transfer scheme of Rs. 7,500 each for beneficiaries of existing social sector schemes like the Jan Dhan Yojana, PM-Kisan Yojana and others.
Chidambaram claimed that by a “very generous estimate”, he pegs Sitharaman’s announcements of Wednesday at Rs. 3.60 lakh crore and insisted that measures announced by the finance minister to ensure liquidity in various sectors “do not amount to fiscal measures of support and nowhere in the world are they included or counted in a fiscal stimulus package”. The Congress leader added that even announcements made to help the MSME sector were “skewed in favour of the larger MSMEs – about 45 lakh” and that a “bulk of the 6.3 crore MSMEs were left high and dry”
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