| Jaswant Singh in New Delhi on Saturday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, April 3 (PTI): Promising to lower taxes and tariffs as part of economic reforms, finance minister Jaswant Singh today rubbished Opposition criticism over the high growth figures and said the government will revise upwards the annual GDP growth rate beyond 8.1 per cent for 2003-04.
Neither ‘worried nor elated’ over the rise in rupee value, Singh has left it to the Reserve Bank of India to deal with the situation.
The finance minister spoke on a wide range of issues like the thrust on reforms if the NDA is voted back to power, inflation and prospects of a double-digit economic growth and ruled out taxes on farmers.
Happy with the Central Statistical Organisation figures of 10.4 per cent growth in the third quarter of 2003-04, Singh said fiscal deficit would also be lower than 4.8 per cent as projected in the interim budget.
Dismissing Opposition criticism that the 10.4 growth rate was a jugglery of figures, he said CSO was not an arm of the finance ministry. “It’s an old organisation and has done sterling services. We can’t start deriding an establishment in the heat and dust of electoral battle,” he said
“I have not juggled with figures. It is not the finance ministry’s figures,” he said appealing to the Opposition parties not to equate economic growth with the government. “They should also take pride in the fact that the economy was growing at a higher rate,” he said.
On his next budget, Singh said the reforms would cover areas like fiscal consolidation, management of state finances, continued reform of the financial sector, manufacturing, infrastructure and social sectors.
“We are committed to further rationalising and simplifying taxes and tariffs,” he said.
He did not agree with the Opposition description of the direct and indirect tax concessions before announcement of elections as ‘giveaways’.
“I am astonished with the term they are still being considered as giveaways. I am sharing the revenue with the citizens of India. I am not giving it away,” Singh said adding the improvement in revenue collections on account of the concessions would be known next week when the figures for the whole year would be available.
The minister said by easing the tax burden, revenue does not suffer. He affirmed that the philosophy of lowering tax rates would continue in the next budget.
Asserting that inflation would remain ‘benign’ and that the latest figures showed it had come down to 4.13 per cent, Singh ridiculed suggestions that the rupee was being manipulated to keep price levels low.
Praising the Reserve Bank for an excellent job in the present situation, he said, “Due attention was being paid on the management of exchange rate. We have foreign exchange reserves of $110 billion. Management of reserves (by RBI) was exemplary.”
About appreciating rupee, he said, “It is a matter we are paying attention to.”
“Neither elation nor despair,” he said when asked if the government was worried or happy over hardening of rupee.