| Singh: Finger on the pulse
New Delhi, Dec. 2: Rattled by the Congress campaign in Gujarat and elsewhere that the economy is running aground even as the ruling coalition scotches communal fires and plugs scams, the government is fielding its top brass to defend the performance of the economy.
The first instalment of this strategy will be unveiled on Tuesday in Parliament when, in an unprecedented move, finance minister Jaswant Singh will present a mid-year report card, the first since Independence.
Jaswant’s report card, say finance ministry insiders, will be quite rosy with claims of keeping fiscal deficit within manageable limits and revenue collections on the ball despite a slowdown the world over and a near-drought back home.
However, it will gloss over the red ink that is sure to blot the government’s accounts books once it takes into account a Rs 14,000-crore bail-out guarantee extended to the ailing UTI and a Rs 6,000 crore drought relief package promised by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Others who will be asked to report their “achievements” include telecom minister Pramod Mahajan and road transport minister B. C. Khanduri whose national highways programme is considered a success, sources said. The idea of highlighting the BJP government’s economic score-card stems from a meeting of a media crisis management group comprising top BJP spin managers—I&B minister Sushma Swaraj, party spokesperson Arun Jaitley, former journalist Balbir Punj and Prime Minister’s media policy advisors Dinanath Mishra and Sudheendra Kulkarni.
Sources said Jaswant Singh’s report card, which shows a fiscal deficit of about Rs 69,000 crore in the first seven months against a budgeted fiscal deficit of Rs 1,35,524 crore for the entire fiscal, does not take into account the likely impact of the Rs 14,000 crore UTI bail out or the Rs 6,000 crore package for drought-hit farmers.
“This is why the finance minister took pains to scotch agriculture minister Ajit Singh’s bid to get a drought relief package cleared at a Cabinet meeting last week and instead pleaded that a loan deferment plan announced earlier tantamount to a Rs 6,000 crore package for farmers,” top finance ministry officials said.
Singh’s mid-year report will also make a strong plea that the disinvestment process be allowed to move ahead with an all-party consensus in order to plug what the minister’s considers a drain on public revenues.
It will also gloss over the RBI economic growth forecast which has scaled down GDP growth for the current fiscal from 6.5 per cent to just 5 per cent, by pointing out this still meant India would remain one of the fastest growing economies, officials said.
Chief economic advisor Ashok Lahiri described it as “not a budget, not even a substitute for the budget. But, it would highlight the performance to capture the salient features of the economy.” This job is usually reserved for the economic survey tabled in Parliament a few days before the budget.