The day after unveiling her first Budget on Friday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman spoke exclusively to Swati Khandelwal on the Modi 2.0 government's agenda of pump-priming the economy to increase consumption to create a virtual cycle driven by high buoyancy for spending in the economy. An excerpt:
In your Budget, You spoke about the $5 trillion economy that is to be achieved in a few years. What steps will the government have to take to reach that mark?
Unrealistic expectations can never be built on, and revenue generation has only been at a very decent level of 9% and 7.9% in both direct and indirect taxes respectively. Disinvestment figures are also being achieved, but this time, we have given ourselves a higher target of Rs 25,000 crore at Rs 1,05,000. So, I don't see revenue collection as a cause for worry.
As for fiscal discipline, I have faithfully kept the gliding path and brought down what was 3.4% last time to 3.3%.
There is a narrative that India needs more money for development, and that purse strings should be loosened first, not tightened. All these arguments have been considered, but as long as I have a kanoon (law) in the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, I will have to abide by it.
The Budget gave the message that everybody must fall in line when it comes to law. And, that the ambit of the law will itself make things much better.
Right, that is the larger message of this Budget. We are setting vision and targets and ensuring that an enabling environment is built to reach them, and the ecosystem is given a necessary push. Turn to P4
Are you hopeful that things will improve on the employment front and the investment cycle will kick on?
Yes, because of the way in which investment is being invited. We have also ironed out wrinkles in the banking sector. I expect a greater opening in areas that have immense opportunities — the sunrise sectors – which I have listed in my Budget speech.
Also, we looking at what can be down in each sector to develop the ecosystem. For instance, in civil aviation, we are building capacity for maintenance and repair overhaul (MRO) of aircraft. This will slowly be integrated into the larger 'Make in India' picture.
You have taxed the super-rich; will honest taxpayers be rewarded at some stage?
This was the first Budget of this government and various incentives have been given to the middle class, such as affordable house and for purchase of electric vehicles. The net benefit reaching the middle class is higher. Through GST, commodity and product prices have come down, and rates have been synchronised such that you don't have to pay too much tax. Avoidance of double taxation means more money in your pocket.
Petrol and diesel prices have gone up. Can we expect them to rise further?
We are encouraging renewable energy and use of electric vehicles. The government is also investing more in making public transport better and more efficient. We will be looking at public transport substituting private mobility, (but) we will have to see how it goes because there is the question of money being invested for the creation of better roads. After all, better roads, ports, and connectivity are for you and me, for the rich and the poor.
Is PSU asset monetisation a massive programme?
We will have to see how the environment is, but it has already been cleared in principle. We will have to look at how best we can fulfil that clearance obtained from the CCA within this year.
Any bank merger planned for the year?
We don't know as of now. We have given about Rs 70,000 crore for consolidation of public sector banks for refinancing and other activities.