FM Nirmala Sitharaman takes on P Chidambaram over Budget numbers

FM Nirmala Sitharaman
A day after P Chidambaram raised questions over the Union Budget projections in Parliament, calling them “unrealistic”, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday contested the figures presented by the Congress leader, suggesting he had drawn his conclusions incorrectly.   

Replying to the general discussion on the Budget in the Rajya Sabha, Sitharaman also took on the former finance minister for his remarks that the Modi government had not undertaken any structural reforms despite a huge mandate and that the government was unnecessary building hype over its aim of taking the economy to $5-trillion mark by 2024-25. 

Chidambaram had said on Thursday that projections given in the Budget were unrealistic considering the past trends. He had wondered as to how the projection of 23.25 per cent growth in income tax for 2019-20 could be achieved when the growth rate was just 7.1 per cent in 2018-19. 

To this, Sitharaman said Chidambaram had taken the data of just personal income tax for FY19 and compared it with the combined figure of personal income tax (PIT) and securities transaction tax (STT) of FY18. He made the same mistake on FY20 projections, she claimed.  

Provisional collection of PIT for 2018-19, according to the Controller General of Accounts website, stood at Rs 4.73 trillion, which included STT, she said. The actual number for PIT in 2017-18, as reported in the Budget documents, was Rs 4.31 trillion, which translated into 9.84 per cent growth for FY19 and not 7.1 as Chidambaram claimed, Sitharaman said.

Similarly, the projected number for PIT, including STT, for FY20 stood at Rs 5.69 trillion, which the former FM compared with PIT excluding STT for FY19 at Rs 4.62 trillion to arrive at a growth rate of 23.25 per cent, she said. "Had he included STT, the growth rate would have been 20.24 per cent, which is achievable considering our past records and also considering higher surcharge on high income individuals,” Sitharaman said. 

The FM also disputed the numbers given by Chidambaram on Customs duty and goods and services tax (GST). 

She said the former finance minister did not exclude special additional duty and countervailing duty for the first quarter of FY17 from the Customs duty kitty to arrive at comparable figures for post-GST months.   She said Chidambaram goofed up on GST figures. According to her, Chidambaram had said projections were made for GST growth in central account at 45 per cent for FY20 while it was just 3.38 per cent a year ago. “I don’t know how these figures were arrived at,” she said. 

Sitharaman devoted almost half of her speech to countering the charges made by Chidambaram, who was not in the House on Friday.

On Chidambaram's charge that the government had not taken any structural reforms, she said the former finance minister counted only four reforms — abolition of licence permit raj, FEMA, removal of exchange control, and letting the rupee find its own value — whereas this government carried out more than 16 reforms including GST, IBC, stand-up India, start-up India, FDI reforms, PM-Kisan Samman, etc.  When the Opposition said it also supported GST, Sitharaman said its prominent leaders called GST ‘gabbar singh tax’. 

“You are calling GST as gabbar singh tax and want to take credit as well. The whole house supported GST passage in parliament, take credit for that, but it happened during our tenure,” she said.   On Chidambaram's remark that the economy doubled every five-six years and the Modi government was unnecessarily building hype over the $5 trillion economy target, Sitharaman said if that was a case, why should there be a government?

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