Says 10 tasks he set forth would take economy to high growth

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the government’s greatest achievement was the lifting of 140 million people out of poverty in the last 10 years.

At the post-budget press conference, Mr. Chidamabram explained that the 10 tasks his speech outlined were “the 10 tasks to take the economy to high growth that no government ought to ignore.”

They include fiscal consolidation, recognising that the current account deficit leaves no room for aversion to foreign investments, striking a balance between price stability and growth and subsidy reforms. On his “ambitious” targets for 2014-14 on tax collections and the fiscal deficit, he said a Finance Minister who sets low targets achieves less.

Taking a dig at the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who recently said it was hard work and not Harvard that mattered, Mr. Chidambaram said: “This is the result of hard work ... I may add, among other mentors, my mother and Harvard taught me the value of hard work.”

In a reference to the Opposition parties, the Minister said: “I leave it to you to answer who blocked the GST when an agreement on the game-changing tax reform was around the corner?”

The speech also pitted the UPA government's budget allocations to education, health and other sectors with those under the NDA regime. He listed out the UPA’s policy reforms such as sugar prices deregulation and relaxations in foreign direct investment caps and social sector initiatives, including the National Food Security Act.

Mr. Chidambaram’s allocations and announcements can be revised in the final budget post-elections. For now, he said his 2014-15 allocations for most ministries and flagship social schemes are the same as the current year with a total plan expenditure of Rs. 5,55,322 crore.

The interim budget, however, marks a significant shift in centre-state revenue sharing, with a trebling of the central assistance to state plans to Rs 3,38,562 cr from last year, and a shrinking of the central plan from Rs 6,14,134 cr to Rs 4,64,934 cr. “This is in line with our restructuring of centrally sponsored schemes,” Planning Commission Deputy Chairman M.S. Ahluwalia told The Hindu. “It will put more money in the hands of States and give them more powers and flexibility, while the central ministry will regulate and set guidelines.”

He also reported that prosecutions for wilful tax evasion have been launched in 17 cases of illegal offshore accounts held by Indians and information is sought on another 67 cases.

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