Would have done 100 more things but for interim Budget: Piyush Goyal

Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, who presented his maiden and the NDA government’s last Budget, says it is not inflationary, expresses hope the disinvestment target will be met, and insists jobs are being created as “you don’t grow at 7.5 per cent without creating jobs”. In an interview with Jyoti Mukul & Indivjal Dhasmana, Goyal accuses the Congress of ruining the economy. Edited excerpts:

There are fears in the market that this Budget is inflationary and fiscal expansionary, which may put pressure on the monetary policy committee (MPC) to not cut the rates. Do you agree? 

I don’t think it is inflationary at all, neither is it expansionary. We have stuck to all the fiscal consolidation numbers. Considering that we wanted to respect farmers’ contribution to ‘Make in India’ and making the nation food-secure, we added a scheme for farmers and provided full money for it. We have announced payments to farmers in three instalments, so that every time there is harvest, there is some spare cash in their hands to enable them pay electricity bills and buy some seeds and fertilisers. Inflation is quite low at 2.19 per cent in December, and it would be even lower this quarter. I don’t want to make any comment on what the MPC will do.

Isn’t the PM-Kisan scheme ‘too little, too late’ in the day?

You don’t probably realise how important this is for small farmers.

But critics say only a little over Rs 16 a day for farmers is too little…

A sum of Rs 6,000 a year is very significant for a small farmer whose land holding is very small and whose produce is very small. All these calculations on a daily basis are extremely unfortunate and an insult to farmers. 

It is with respect that we are providing money for them and they have also received it with dignity — not as an entitlement or a dole. You have to see what we have inherited from the Congress. The economy was shattered. We were in the fragile five economies. There were Rs 1.6 trillion of unpaid bills. There was high inflation, low growth, high fiscal deficit, and high current account deficit. 

If at that point in time, we had not set the economy in order and prepared the ground for strong fiscal fundamentals, today we would be having double-digit inflation, like it was in the Congress’s time. All of us would be spending 35-40 per cent more on our day-to-day expenses. Throughout this period, we have taken a series of measures for a better future for farmers. Please don’t belittle by questioning what has been given to farmers.

The Centre will be relying on states for data on land holdings for implementing the scheme for farmers. Some states such as West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh are reluctant to join the scheme. Is there political opposition to the scheme?

The farmers of West Bengal will realise that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to give them some honorarium which Mamata didi is not allowing. Farmers will give response to the state government. This approach is a petty approach. It shows that they don’t want to allow farmers to get what the Centre is giving, don’t want farmers to have a better future. They want the poor to live the life of misery. After all, the Centre has so many schemes and gives so much funds to all the states.

On fiscal deficit numbers, your figures for revenues look very ambitious. For instance, the disinvestment number is pegged at Rs 80,000 crore, but only over Rs 30,000 crore has come in so far. Will you able to meet target?

Data will show you 50-55 per cent of the disinvestment proceeds come in the last quarter. All the plans are very well laid out. We will meet the target.

GST collections could not meet the Budget Estimate for the current financial year and you are now projecting an 18 per cent growth rate for FY20. Is it not ambitious?

We have already given a true reflection of GST collections. We have done a lot of refunds. Even the old pending refunds were cleared this year. It is not 18 per cent growth next year literally, because we have paid refunds which have been accumulated. That has compressed this year’s revenue. We are collecting about Rs 97,000 crore a month on average this year from GST. In the year, this will give Rs 11.5 trillion, the Centre’s share would be about Rs 6 trillion. Next year, refunds will not be that much, because backlog has been cleared.

Moody’s has said fiscal slippage for two years in a row is credit negative. Do you fear a rating downgrade by Moody’s?

I don’t see it is credit negative. In the good old days, whenever there used to be good monsoon, the whole economy used to get a boost. People in rural areas spend when they have money in their hands; they spend and the economy gets a boost. When we put more money in the pockets of the middle class, it is a boost to the economy. I can see better growth for the economy, going forward. Any benefit given for these sections of the society — be it farmers, the middle class or the poor — is going to benefit the economy.
You have not stopped the practice of subsidy roll-over.

The amount that comes towards the end of the year is given the next year. This is routine. But this is not as huge as we inherited from the Congress.

The Budget is being seen as an election Budget. Don’t you think it will be difficult for the next government to manage the finances?

If not for elections, I would have done hundred other things. But it was an interim Budget. These are welfare measures that were in the making for a long time. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming to power and we are confident the BJP-led NDA will form the government. And, therefore, our every plan is fully budgeted and accounted for. I do not see the next government facing any problem. The next government will be ours and we have planned so that we do not face any problem.

Any time during Budget-making, did you think of universal basic income (UBI)? Or do you think the income support scheme is a better idea?

In one of the programmes in a TV channel, before me there was a Congress leader speaking about UBI. When he was asked how it would be financed, he said they would stop all the subsidies. But I would like to know from all my Congress friends whether they are going to make the fertiliser five times more expensive? Are they going to start charging farmers five times more? Is the Congress going to disrupt the Food Security Act by stopping the food grain that we give to 800 million citizens at Rs 2 or 3? Will cooking gas become twice as costly then? We will not stop all these subsidies.

The government is facing criticism on job creation. You head the railway ministry that is a very big job creator, and yet there are pending vacancies.

I have already announced 150,000 jobs, which are underway and the process is finished. There are 120,000 jobs for which the process has started. And 99,000 which will fall vacant due to retirement. So, around 200,000 jobs for which the process has started, there will be 10 per cent reservation for the economically weaker section. This will be the first employment opportunity which will have this category, without affecting in any way the 50 per cent reservation for the SC/ST and OBCs.

You had pending vacancies in railways and yet the government was unable to create jobs.

Wherever there are vacancies, the government will fill it up. No one expects jobs to be created only in the government sector. The world has changed and the nature of jobs has changed too. We are also evolving new ways of creating opportunities. We are going for renewable energy, where 10 or 20 times more jobs are being created compared to coal-based power plants. We are now engaging with the world in a new way. Then, there are 150 million Mundra loans, where ~7 trillion has been given over the last few years. All this is helping people become self-reliant and self-sufficient. We started Start-Up India and Stand-Up India, which are making people entrepreneurs. People are becoming job creators rather than depending on government jobs and the organised sector.

A lot would have happened on the job front if ‘Make in India’ would have succeeded. What is your assessment?

It has succeeded in many ways. First Vande Bharat Express is coming out of Indian factories; all its parts have largely come out of Indian factories. Mobile manufacturing units have increased to 250 something. We are seeing a lot of action. There were certain sectors where capacity was already too high and there was low capacity utilisation. Obviously, no one will invest in those sectors. As capacity in these sectors gets used up, there will be investors. We have invested in capital expenditure in railways and roads. All these don’t happen out of thin air. Jobs obviously are created. You name the sector and jobs are happening. After all, you don’t grow at 7.5 per cent without creating jobs.

CAG had criticised the government for offline borrowings. What do you have to say on it?

There are only a few things that are offline. Those have a payback period and because of that they get off Budget. For instance, if we set up railway infrastructure which gets paid off in five-six years, I see no harm in that and it is good that we invest fast and get the benefits for people of India who get better services or houses. I think it is incumbent on any government to give benefits quickly to the people. Our effort is what is more important for our citizens, we should not delay by even one day.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel