Says the Leader of Opposition should be more objective in assessing work of government; expresses confidence that growth would bounce back to 7-8%

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said the prevailing sluggish industrial growth in the country was because of heavy spending on the social sector — an aspect that had not, he said, gone beyond tokenism during the tenure of the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

Replying to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address in the Rajya Sabha, the Prime Minister refuted the Opposition’s charge that growth had suffered and listed India’s annual growth rates since the United Progressive Alliance formed the government in 2004.

Taking on Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley’s accusation that the UPA had “made a mess of a fast-growing economy it had inherited”, Dr. Singh said rapid industrialisation was “precisely the intent of UPA government” but there were bound to be difficulties because for the first time, large sums were being spent on social sector schemes.

“These are problems of a fast-growing economy,” he said.

Dr. Singh called on Mr. Jaitley to judge the economic situation in an unbiased manner rather than trying to score brownie points. He said there was indeed a slowdown but he was hopeful of the economy getting back to 7-to-8 per-cent growth in the next two to three years.

The Prime Minister dwelt at length on his government’s allocation for the social sector and compared it to the token, ad hoc amounts that were mentioned in budgets presented by the NDA government.

“[The] UPA government focussed on social spending and we are proud of expanding expenditure in the social sector. We are proud of making sincere efforts to fulfil the desire of the poor,” he said.

The Prime Minister said doubts expressed by the Opposition during the debate had occurred in the past. It was alleged that when the Congress initiated the reforms programme in the 90s, its economic policies were framed in Washington, but that when it was succeeded by the United Front Government and then by the NDA, “there was no change in direction of this path”.

Besides contesting pessimism about the economy and highlighting his government’s spending on the social sector, Dr. Singh touched upon agriculture. The trend was positive in some States and the Centre was committed to helping them combat challenges such as drought and scarcity of water.

With these arguments to buttress his reply, Dr. Singh hoped Mr. Jaitley would “reflect calmly on the situation we have dealt with as the path we have chosen is the right path”.

And as if to bring out Mr. Jaitley’s all-out opposition in stark relief, the Prime Minister praised the performance of the non-Congress Governments in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh and said he was “not ashamed” of mentioning this aspect.

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