| A man walks in front of Parliament ahead of the budget presentation on Friday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Feb. 28: Opposition parties today slammed finance minister Jaswant Singh’s maiden budget, saying it lacked credible proposals to revive the economy or confront its structural challenges and had failed to address the distress situation in the farm sector.
“The budget is full of token measures to deal with what are serious problems. (It) Will have no impact on reviving growth, kick-starting investment and restoring government finances to health,” leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and former finance minister Manmohan Singh said.
The Congress leader pointed in particular to the proposal to increase the price of fertilisers by Rs 12 a 50-kg bag, saying this would affect the farmers at a time when the terms of trade was against the agriculture sector.
“At a time when Indian farmers are facing acute distress, the hike in urea, DAP (di-ammonium phosphate) and potash reveals the true face of the BJP especially when seen along with the exemption of long-term capital gains,” Manmohan said.
Other Opposition parties such as the CPM, the Samajwadi Party, the Janata Dal (S), too, came down heavily on Singh’s proposal to hike fertiliser and diesel prices which, they said, would ruin the recession-hit agriculture sector.
CPM leader in the Lok Sabha Somnath Chatterjee, describing the budget as “disappointing”, said it neglected farmers and farm labourers.
A separate statement issued by the CPM politburo said the budget offered nothing to the peasantry reeling from price crashes. Instead, it raised the price of fertilisers at a time when output prices had crashed.
Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda said the hike had come when farmers needed urgent relief. The Congress, the CPM and the Dal(S) also criticised Singh’s failure to boost investment in the farm sector.
Commenting on the broad thrust of the budget, Manmohan said the finance minister failed to address pressing concerns such as reviving economic growth, boosting investment, increasing per capita agricultural output and improving government finances.
Neither did he simplify the tax system, Manmohan said. “The tax system has actually been made more complex.”
Asked whether the Congress would move a cut motion on the proposed fertiliser price hike, Manmohan said: “We will cross the bridge when we come to it.”
As the BJP and its NDA allies were also protesting against the proposal, he said Singh, too, might earn the nickname “roll-back” finance minister.
The Congress and the CPM criticised the proposal to cut interest rate on small savings such as public provident fund, which they said would hurt millions of workers.
The CPM went further and described the budget as a “grievous attack” on people’s livelihood. The party said doors had been opened for de-Indianisation of the banking sector.