New Delhi [India], May 20 (ANI): Amid opposition's criticism of the comprehensive economic package announced by the Centre to deal with the challenges posed by COVID-19, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday said the stimulus was aimed at "greater multiplier effect" and sincere efforts have been made to provide relief to various sections including poor and migrant workers.
In an interview with ANI Editor Smita Prakash, Sitharaman also hit out at Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra over her barbs at the UP government on the issue of migrant workers, saying that States, where Congress was in power, had seen few trains arriving with migrant workers, which shows the 'hypocrisy of the Congress.'
She said the approach of BJP-led Central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has never been supportive of any "cronyism" in any way.
The Minister indicated that the government will make plans for migrant workers to return to cities and towns as industrial and economic activities resume with easing of restrictions amid the COVID-19 induced lockdown.
She said that opposition parties can choose their words to target the government but it has made sincere efforts to provide relief to people and asked about the performance of the State governments headed by opposition parties in dealing with the issues relating to migrant workers.
Answering a query, Sitharaman said that every Finance Minister gets criticism and because there is much stress at the ground-level due to challenges posed by the coronavirus, there is "a lot of criticism" and she does not mind it and has to take it.
Asked if the Central government considered more immediate measure such as direct income support to spur demand and consumption, she said that a lot of suggestions were discussed.
"We have discussed a lot of suggestions which had come over. We thought it was important to give stimulus to business to start off, particularly to small and medium, which are all over the country," she said.
The Finance Minister continued: "PM Garib Kalyan Yojana was introduced soon after the lockdown was announced. In fact, we have given some cash transfer. It may not be adequate but still, we managed to give. So, with that done at that time, we were not closing the option."
"For cash transfer, we thought it was far more effective because the way in which we've planned it, we thought there will be a greater multiplier effect, and therefore, it should be through banks, businesses for meeting the fixed cost expenditure. It should be money which is given for working capital. It should also be money for loans so that they can buy raw materials," she added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier this month announced Rs 20 lakh crore special economic package to deal with the situation created by the coronavirus and to make the country self-reliant.
Sitharaman said that she did not initially react to Congress calling her press conferences on the comprehensive Rs 20 lakh financial package a "drama" and "TV serial" but decided to hit back on the party on the issue of migrant workers.
"If the Congress can call Government of India announcing a package at a time like this...one said it's like a TV serial, every day she comes at 4; other said it's a drama. I didn't respond to anyone of them. Even on the fifth day when I was announcing, I didn't respond to any of them," she said.
"But somebody asked me on migrants, I had to say. If ours - official press conferences telling what package govt wants to give - is called a drama, stopping migrants when they're walking, at that time you go, sit and have a 'gupshup'. Don't I have a right to comment on it," she asked.
The Finance Minister said the Narendra Modi government came up with the PM Garib Kalyan scheme within hours after the first phase of lockdown in March.
"In opposition, you can always use any words that you want. This was the government, which gave the PM Garib Kalyan scheme within hours after the lockdown was brought in. That Garib Kalyan meant that they would have food so that no one goes hungry," the minister said.
"They have not flattened the curve; they have not had the migrants handled in a very exemplary way that all of us can learn from them," she added.
She asked opposition parties about their handling of issues pertaining to migrant workers in the States ruled by them.
"We thought of giving them cooking gas and some amount to run the house. I would ask the opposition -- Have those state governments, where they're in power, handled this matter any better? Won't the attention be towards those governments where their party or alliance partners are in power," she asked.
Asked if she faced excessive criticism because she is a woman Finance Minister, Sitharaman said: "There is definitely a lot of criticism. I suppose every Finance Minister gets it."
"But now because the stress is in the ground so much and affected people are probably a lot more. So there is a lot of criticism and I don't mind it. I have to take it," she said.
Sitharaman held five press conferences to give out details of the special comprehensive package of Rs 20 lakh crore announced by Prime Minister Modi to help various sections of society deal with COVID-19 situation and make India self-reliant.
Taking a dig at the Congress, she said that there was no complaint "about us calling and instructing banks."
"This government and Prime Minister Modi's approach has never been supportive of any cronyism in any way. In the last five years, you have seen clearly. No one had any complaint about us calling and instructing banks," she said.
"So, I think that is not an issue. If anything that the banks are hesitant to extend loans, which may go bad for which the way we have devised the schemes that we would definitely guarantee any loss that happens. We don't promote corruption or cronyism. Banks have to take genuine decisions. They will take and I am giving them guarantee about decisions going wrong that they will not be held responsible. But if at a local level, somebody does cronyism, it is for the banks to say no."
Answering a query, she said that if Priyanka Gandhi was really focused about UP government, she should see why 300 trains arrived in the State when not even five to seven trains arrived in Chhattisgarh.
The Minister said that she does not want to politicise the issue and everyone should work together in the extraordinary situation created by the coronavirus crisis.
"If she's really focused about UP government, she should see why 300 trains arrived in UP when not even five-seven arrived in Chhattisgarh. Don't want to politicise this as migrants are Indians and all of us in this extraordinary situation should concentrate and work together," she said.
"Three hundred trains as opposed to seven (trains). I'm not saying the size of the populations is comparable but the migrants probably are comparable. Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand -- the numbers may be comparable to entire UP put together. This is unfair, dirty and clearly shows the hypocrisy of the Congress," she added.
The Congress had on Wednesday slammed the Yogi Adityanath government over 1,000 buses arranged by the party "not being allowed" to enter the State to carry migrant workers to their homes. Priyanka also spoke on the issue on Wednesday through the party's social media platforms.
Answering a query on the return of migrant workers, she said: "We will have to see how best we are going to work this out with the companies and also with migrants, who may want to return. So there is a lot of work to be done by the Centre, the States and the companies."
Sitharaman said that a lot of companies have had queries from the workers to check if the lockdown is going to be lifted soon and when the production is likely to commence.
She said Prime Minister Modi's vision of 'Atma Nirbhar Bharat' is aimed at making Indian companies globally competitive.
On a question related to cash transfers, the Finance Minister said the government was helping people in a targeted manner.
She said the economic stimulus announced by the government had been announced after extensive consultations including with economists in the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council.
"If I give it to a farmer and his family also gets cash through Ujjwala, Jan Dhan account holder for running the house and also I frontload the farmer Rs 2000, I am also ensuring that those formerly employed can also take it out from the EPF, which is their money no doubt but is normally kept in a fund. So I am also trying to ease up on that giving of cash but cash giving whilst it may convince us today that the government has been generous in giving money; will it have that multiplier giving impact," she asked.
"There can be a lot of people who can say yes it will have - immediately they will go out buy things and thereby demand will get triggered. Maybe, there is a sense in that argument. But we have considered various different suggestions, which came and also applied our mind. Eminent economists are there in the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, NITI Aayog; Finance Ministry has economic advisors. All of us have worked together and thought that this will be the best," she added.
Asked about the possibility of deficit financing, she said it was not under consideration at the moment. "At this stage, we have not even considered it," said Sitharaman. (ANI)