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Covid-19 relief package: ‘Opposition only wants to pick holes,’ says Nirmala Sitharaman on criticism

Sitharaman said the idea of the package was to ‘restart economic activity, put some cash in peoples hands, and infuse liquidity in the system’.

Covid-19 relief package: ‘Opposition only wants to pick holes,’ says Nirmala Sitharaman on criticism
File photo of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. | PTI

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday said that those who criticise the Centre’s economic relief package worth Rs 20 lakh crore, do not want to understand it but want to “pick holes” instead, the Hindustan Times reported.

This came a day after Congress President Sonia Gandhi said at a virtual meeting of several Opposition parties that the package, meant to revive the battered economy, was a “cruel joke on the country”. Party leaders have repeatedly criticised the Centre, calling the details of the economic package “voodoo economics” and a “litany of jumlas”. Others have described it as “too little, too late”, claiming it barely does anything to uplift the poor.

However, Sitharaman dismissed all criticism and said the idea of the package is to “restart economic activity, put some cash in peoples hands, and infuse liquidity in the system”. She made the remarks while speaking to Bharatiya Janata Party leader Nalin Kohli about the government’s economic relief measures in the Capital.

“We compared [the] announcements made by other countries,” she said. “We should be not confused about this. Every country has brought in a basket of things, some fiscal, some monetary...We are not different from them. The proportion might vary...[but] we have come [up] with measures which will infuse more liquidity into the market. People will get money in hand and [this will] kickstart demand.”

On being told that certain industries such as the automobile, retail, entertainment, among others, felt they were left out from the ambit of Centre’s relief measures, Sitharaman said that was an incorrect observation. “[The Centre] has not excluded anyone,” she said. “People in any sector can approach banks and get loans,” she said. “The banks have been told to disburse loans and not fear the Central Bureau of Investigation , the Central Vigilance Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.”

The finance minister also denied claims that the package fails to provide any stimulus to middle class people by only focussing on the poor and marginalised. “The initial panic was on the EMIs, so [the Centre] worked with the Reserve Bank of India and they responded,” she said. “I tend to think the ‘middle class’ is there in every segment, like in agriculture and allied activities...say, you could be part of dairy activity as an entrepreneur...”

In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had claimed the package was equivalent to 10% of India’s gross domestic product, and was aimed at the multitudes of workers and businesses who were left economically devastated because of the prolonged shutdown. Sitharaman provided the contours of the package in five tranches.

But analysts have pointed out that the numbers are an eyewash as a significant portion of that amount includes measures that have been already announced by the government and the efforts made by the Reserve Bank of India. The calculations of the package assume economic activity even though the government’s actual expenditure is far smaller than the stated amount. Moreover, it is unclear how much that will help migrants and others employed in the country’s unorganised sector – believed to make up 80% of the workforce – who are likely to have trouble getting access to the benefits.

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