Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in a candid statement has said that the government has taken several measures to support the economy but no amount of intervention will be adequate to deal with the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing the annual general meeting of the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Sitharaman said that while in early 2020 green shoots and revival signs of the economy were visible, it was upset with the pandemic setting in.
The government has taken steps for interventions by consulting several chambers of commerce, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took feedback from the industry, she said. For instance, the Garib Kalyan Yojana, free cooking gas and direct benefit transfer schemes were announced by the government, Sitharaman said.
Three different sets of announcements were made regarding ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, and together with RBI, certain tailormade schemes were unveiled for various sectors on a demand-driven basis, she said. “We did not restrict the opportunities to any particular sector. This was needed to keep the industry floating,” Sitharaman said.
“But no amount of intervention by the government will be adequate,” she added. Sitharaman said that while the reforms of 1991 were a big step, but that had a balance of payments crisis.
“Had the government of that time had done something more, the economy now would have been in a better shape,” she said. The government has brought about reforms in the agriculture sector, ushered in new labour codes for flexibility, and made imports expensive for goods that can be produced in the country, the finance minister said.
On the next Budget, she said that public expenditure, including on capital and infrastructure, will be kept up. Sitharaman said several sovereign and pension funds are willing to come to India with long-term commitments, which is leading to the higher inward flow of FDI than comparable economies.
The disinvestment agenda, which got Cabinet clearance, will go on and banks will be run by professionals with risk officers brought in from outside and not appointed from within, she said. “DIPAM will be more active. What we see more is dynamism,” the minister said.
Exuding hope, Sitharaman said, “We are seeing clear signs of revival. But that has to sustain. We need inputs from the industry at this extraordinary time during Budget-making.”