In her first post budget interview to the NDTV Network, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reflected on the confidence the people have in Modi Government 2.0. In a freewheeling chat with NDTV’s editor-in-chief Sanjay Pugalia, the FM said the government’s working towards a Viksit (Developed) Bharat by 2047.
Read her full interview transcript below:
Q1. The interim budget saw no major or populist announcement, even though elections are around the corner. Sign of a confident government?
Ans: Our confidence comes from the fact that the government in the last 10 years has launched many public welfare schemes one after another. A lot of hard work went into their implementation on ground and people have reaped the benefit. This gave people the confidence that the Modi government does what it says. That’s why wherever Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a programme, people come there and accept wholeheartedly that we have got the full benefits of the schemes. We also get confidence from this public confidence in the leadership of the Prime Minister. We have received public blessings twice in a row and will get it again in future.
Q2. Most governments will have some doubts about the election results and they make populist announcements during interim budgets. Why made you not follow those footsteps?
Ans: We have been planning the budget since August-September, and have also sought opinions and views. We spoke with the PM as well, and he was clear this is an interim budget. After elections, when budget is presented in July by the new government, we’ll take in all views and formulate a budget. However, the interim budget should give an account of how much money was spent on schemes during our ten-year tenure, how much benefit was derived by the people, and how fast we are moving on the path of development. The Prime Minister gave us guidance that there should be complete details regarding income and expenditure in this budget, which would be understandable to the public; an account of what they got and what is likely to come for them in future.
Q3. At the time of elections, there is always this hope that the govt will make some populist announcements. You had the opportunity, yet you chose not to do so?
Ans: The speed with which the government’s schemes reached the people on the ground post their announcement, it created confidence in the minds of the public about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. It could gauge that the public is in the mood to give our government another chance. So we chose not to make any light populist announcements.
Q4. The government maintained proper balance between earnings and expenditure and did not bother with subsidies. In such a situation, how was this government able to control inflation?
Ans: Simply giving subsidies on a large scale is not how you provide benefits to the public. For example, if we talk about farmers during the Covid period and the subsequent years, the prices of urea increased significantly, but we did not let the burden fall on the farmers. The government itself bore the cost. So we take care of these things. Our government believes in empowerment and not just in propaganda. When plans are made, it is kept in mind that the essential services should reach the people and after that they can take decisions for their families themselves. We don’t want them to become completely dependent on the government. We believe in empowering people.
Q5. Helping the needy is a good thing, it should be done, but in creating employment for growth, will it also affect the pace of development?
Ans: We will continue to help in taking social welfare to any needy family. For example, they do not have to spend from their budget for health and basic education. The government will continue to spend on this. But when we present other important schemes in the cabinet, the Prime Minister always asks, how many jobs will be created with the money we are spending. Employment doesn’t not just mean working in an office. If you are capable of running a business yourself, the government helps you. Through this, they not only create employment for themselves but also provide employment to other people. This should also be counted.
Q6. Everyone was expecting that since the capex had increased by 30-35 percent last year, it would increase more this year. Government data shows that if one rupee is invested in infrastructure, then 3 rupees are added to the GDP, while DBT adds 90 paise. So it was assumed that the government would set an aggressive target – but perhaps you have kept it on hold for July?
Ans: We will think on this in July, but at the same time I want to tell that there has been no cut in the allocation for capital expenditure. You have seen an increase of 30 percent from a low base, so you feel that an increase of 11 percent is not much, but it is happening from a higher base. You may think it is small, but we have reached Rs 11 lakh crore.
Q7. The government has created such a positive environment in the country, due to which a large amount of private capital can now come in. But especially in the infrastructure sector, the private sector is talking a lot, but there is a slight gap in actual investment. What gives you the belief that the private sector will further increase its participation?
Ans: When you spend money on infrastructure, for eg, when the center gives money to the state governments for carrying out infra work at no interest for 50 years, many new projects and schemes are taken up even at the state level. Similarly, everyone assumes that the private companies will come only to build a big bridge or for some big infrastructure work. But that’s not the case. Now private companies are also investing to help in the equipment and machinery used in big infra projects.
Q8. The drafting of PPP has been a problem area, major changes will have to be made in it, will we have to be a little aggressive there?
Ans: Yes, I am taking suggestions regarding this. There is still work to done in this area.
Q9. Privatization is a big opportunity, the govt has created an environment for it, the country is also ready. In such a scenario the government can make demands. Why has no indication been given regarding this in this budget or do you not consider it necessary?
Ans: The government has brought in the Public Sector Enterprises Policy in 2021 itself. Therefore, our policy regarding disinvestment is clear, we are not going to back down from it. But while talking about disinvestment, we also keep in mind that the value of those companies is also considered. For example, at the time of LIC’s IPO announcement, many of its shortcomings were rectified.
Q10. How can one avail the Innovation Fund and who will administer it, how will this scheme work? Because R&D is a big area and we are late in it.
Ans: National Research Foundation was in the budget two years ago, even then it was not new. Funding for science and technology in this country is very old, but it was quite scattered. Which we collected through the National Research Foundation. Right now we are giving interest free loan for 50 years. Let’s fund it in some institute, which is doing some good innovation. The government is absolutely ready for such institutions.
Q11. What can we achieve in northeastern states by PLI and innovation?
Ans: Look East does not just mean North East. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Central Government is already doing a lot for the North East, which will continue. Apart from this, Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are where man power is good. The people of Bihar travel across and run the entire country. So we want to pay more attention to the development there also. These states will work like a powerful engine in the development of the country.
Q12. You mentioned mining, energy, ports, road and railway corridors in the budget speech, what should we expect in these areas?
Ans: When the Prime Minister says Viksit Bharat 2047, it means skills for the common people, employment and improving the ease of living for them. For this it is essential that there are good road and rail facilities to take them from one place to another. Ease of movement should be ensured. Under Atmanirbhar Bharat, we are also improving the railways with new trains and good facilities.
Q13. What’s the response been like for Lakhpati Didi scheme?
Ans: Ever since the Lakhpati Didi scheme was introduced, a lot of enthusiasm is being seen among women even in villages. The women feel that they can also become Lakhpati Didis. They say if they can get some help from a bank, they can also do this, so another avenue is opening up for women empowerment. Schemes like Namo drone, for which women are given training, ensure women are getting involved in science. Along with fertilization, land mapping work is also done in the fields through drones. So women are being further empowered through these avenues.
Q14. Explain to us a little more about the solar plan, especially for the residential middle class.
Ans: Besides Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, there is also an affordable housing scheme worth Rs 45 lakh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that this scheme is for those who are slightly above the poverty line and live on rent, in unauthorized colonies or in chawls.
Q15. In many places people are forced to live 50 to 100 kilometers away from their place of work. In such a situation, there is the issue of land core. If the government makes land available then the prices will come down. Is anything going to happen regarding this?
Ans: We are taking details from various departments regarding this and where there is need, we are also involving state governments.
Q16. Tell us about your plans for South India.
Ans: There are more misconceptions than truth circulating about the South. Infrastructure facilities are already good in the South. Most of the people are going abroad from the same areas. There is also a lot of interest in science and technology there. This is quite common in the southern region. That is why the investment of private sectors is also more in that direction. There are plenty of opportunities there. Like the Defense Corridor went there because the atmosphere was right. So, we work keeping in mind whatever is needed for the development of various areas of the country.
Q17. Given what’s going on in the world, is there a need to spend more money in defence?
Ans: Provision has also been made in this budget for self-reliance in defence, so that new innovations can take place. Before the PM’s tenure, this sector was not given as much attention. In the past 10 years our government has done a lot for this sector.
Q18. The government says it will bring out a white paper on the tenure of the UPA government. What is the need for this?
Ans: When we came to power in 2014, there was a lot of pressure on the govt due to the irregularities committed during the previous 10 years. We faced difficulties in planning and investments due to scams and corruption and lack of trust. The talk of white paper came up during the time, but the PM refused to do so in the interest of the country, so that the confidence of investors and the people is not broken. But now when we publish the white paper, it will bring out in open the corruption during UPA government and what the NDA government has done in the last 10 years for the country’s development.
Q19. Looking at the global situation, what worries you? What is the risk that you are concerned about that could create hurdles in the country’s growth plan?
Ans: Uncertainty, because be it trade or any global strategic interest, no one can say when what could happen to hinder growth.