The West Bengal government responded to the BJP-led centre’s Union Budget with a withering critique today, saying that it is sure to send the Indian economy “from the ICU to ventilator support”.
“Before the budget, the Indian economy was in the ICU. But after the budget, it will go straight to the ventilator. This is an anti-people and thoughtless budget that leaves people at the bottom of the pyramid in every way,” said state Finance Minister Amit Mitra.
The state finance minister claimed that the budget does not address any of the issues facing the country. “GDP growth is at an 11-year low. Private consumption is at a seven-year low. Investment is at a 17-year low. Manufacturing is at a 15-year low. Agriculture is at a four-year low. But none of these areas were addressed in the budget,” he said, claiming that the centre instead brought about a radical reduction of 8.9 per cent in the agriculture, health and education sectors.
Mr Mitra also termed Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s initiative of revising tax slabs for the middle class as a game of bluff where something is “given in one hand and taken away from the other”.
“When one bought a little place to live earlier, at least the interest was tax deductible. Now there is no relief on interest. This will have a serious impact on the housing industry, which — in turn — will affect agricultural income spending because construction labour comes from rural areas. They will not come anymore,” he predicted.
The state finance minister also claimed that the “sop” of tax relief provided in the Union budget will do little to offset the reduction of funding to the social sector. “On behalf of the Trinamool Congress, I submit that this is a budget that’s thoughtless, visionless and benefits from no long-term thinking. This is a lost opportunity, and the price will be paid by the common people of India,” he said.
Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget proposal to disinvest the centre’s shares in the Life Insurance Corporation of India also came in for criticism from Mr Mitra. “LIC is already in the ICU with non-performing assets coming up to Rs 30,000 crore. But now you move it towards privatisation to be eaten,” he said.
There is a lot that the centre can learn from the West Bengal government on running an economy, Mr Mitra claimed. “In our state, agriculture has grown nine times and the social sector by over 4.5 times. At 100 days’ work, the state has the highest under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment scheme,” he said.
The centre’s proposal to sell stake in the Life Insurance Corporation of India had also come in for criticism from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. “I am shocked and appalled to see how the central government plans to ambush the heritage and legacy of public institutions. It’s the end of a sense of security. Is it also the end of an era?” she tweeted hours after Nirmala Sitharaman wrapped up her longest-ever budget speech in parliament today.
Incidentally, Mr Mitra had some criticism to spare for the Union Minister’s unusually long budget speech too. “God save India from the hands of those who have no vision, no strategy, only words. Two and a half hours of budget speaking, but just as empty as a vessel that keeps clankering,” he said.
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