2024 Interim Budget | Biased in favour of rich: Chidambaram

Not afraid of white paper on UPA’s economic record, says former FM P. Chidambaram; slams FM for no mention of unemployment, inflation, farmer suicides; says per capita income growth more important than GDP growth

February 01, 2024 10:58 pm | Updated February 02, 2024 01:50 am IST - NEW DELHI

Former Finance Minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram addresses the media regarding the Union Interim Budget 2024 during a press conference, in New Delhi on Thursday.

Former Finance Minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram addresses the media regarding the Union Interim Budget 2024 during a press conference, in New Delhi on Thursday. | Photo Credit: ANI

India’s demographic dividend has been “destroyed” as the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s approach to the economy “is biased in favour of the rich”, Congress leader and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said on Thursday, after the presentation of the Interim Union Budget in Parliament. He added that the party was not afraid of a white paper analysing the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government’s record on handling the economy.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, in a video statement, claimed that both “vision and accountability were missing” from the Interim Budget. “Any budget has two aspects: one, to provide a status report on the previous years, and the other is to provide a vision for the next year. Both of these are missing from this Interim Budget,” Mr. Kharge said.

Addressing a press conference at party headquarters, Mr. Chidambaram slammed the Budget’s provisions for key sectors, including the youth, women, and farmers, as well as the policy of “minimum government and maximum governance”.

‘Rampant unemployment’

While Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had talked about youth, she did not acknowledge the “rampant” unemployment, said the Congress leader, adding that she had not mentioned that over 30,000 farmers and agricultural labourers had died by suicide between 2020 and 2022, nor the low participation of women in the labour force.

“By deliberate neglect over the last 10 years, the government has destroyed the demographic dividend story and dashed the hopes of millions of youth and their families,” Mr. Chidambaram said. “It is a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. The government is either ignorant or callous to the fact that the top 10% owns 60% of the nation’s wealth and earns 57% of the national income, and that income inequality has widened significantly in the last 10 years,” he added.

Per capita income vs GDP

Asked about India being described as the fastest growing economy, the former Finance Minister said that the “fastest growing economy is not a badge of honour”.

“China’s GDP is five and a half times more than our GDP. If they grow at, say 3%, in order to match their annual growth, we have to grow at 15%... So don’t talk about GDP growth. Talk about the per capita income growth. If the GDP is growing at such a high rate, why is the per capita income growing at half that rate?” he asked.

High food inflation

The Congress veteran said that the Finance Minister had barely touched on the issue of inflation, despite the fact that food inflation is at 7.7%, while the real wages for casual workers have stagnated for four years. “She spoke about free grain to 80 crore persons, but she did not speak about India’s rank in the Global Hunger Index or the widespread malnutrition among children leading to a high proportion of stunting and wasting,” he said.

Mr. Chidambaram added that the “minimum government” policy has, in reality, “undermined federalism, starved State governments of funds and virtually reduced the third tier of governance — panchayats and municipalities — to ciphers”.

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