Coronavirus | Economic package soon, government monitoring volatile markets, says FM Nirmala Sitharaman

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. File

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. File   | Photo Credit: PTI

Task force still not constituted, but multi-layered sub-groups holding consultations

The Centre will soon announce an economic package to deal with coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman assured on Tuesday, adding that the government and regulators were constantly monitoring the state of the economy, markets and the rupee’s movement.

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The minister, however, offered little clarity on the composition of an economic task force announced by the Prime Minister last week, and explained that the delay in announcing an economic package was on account of the need for extensive consultations, which had been delayed as Parliament had been in session till Monday and the Finance Bill had had to be cleared.

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“Work is going on and we are very close to coming out with an economic package, which will be announced sooner rather than later,” Ms. Sitharaman said, adding that the Centre, the Reserve Bank of India and the regulators had been jointly monitoring the volatility in the stock markets thrice daily. “Every attention is being given to the economy. The Prime Minister himself is closely monitoring the situation. A multi-layered composition of the task force is already working.”

As The Hindu had reported on Tuesday morning, the economic task force announced in the PM’s address to the nation on March 19 has still not been constituted, with the Finance Ministry saying that the PM’s Office or the Cabinet Secretariat would be responsible for issuing an order to create it. On Tuesday evening, after the FM’s press conference, a Finance Ministry spokesperson once again confirmed that no order had as yet been issued to set up the task force.

Ms. Sitharaman was more ambiguous about the status of the task force, saying that sub-groups of MPs, academics and industry leaders were already generating ideas for the task force, but refusing to elaborate on its composition or specific mandate.

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“The Finance Ministry is working intensively on all these suggestions which are coming in from the various sub groups within the multi-layered task force that exists,” she said. “So the work of the task force which is multi-layered is already almost intensively nearing a conclusion. So the task force and the task force based report and the action following the task force’s report are almost at its peak and that is why I have said we will announce the economic package sooner rather than later.”

Ms. Sitharaman also declined comment on specific queries about how the economic package would provide relief for millions of informal sector and daily wage workers who have been hit the hardest by the shutdown.

“I appreciate that you would have liked the package to be announced last week,” the minister told journalists at the press conference. “But most things which are as big as an economic package for this kind of unusual situation requires a lot of consultation to get it right,” she added.

“We had no intention to delay, we don’t want to delay, but then but let us be realistic. Till yesterday, the Parliament was in session and the Finance Bill had to be cleared,” she said, adding that she would have been happy to announce the package in the House if it was ready and the Finance Bill had been passed. “And once the Finance Bill got cleared, it was important for the MPs to recognise there is a lockdown in this country, so everyone had to go where they had to go and serve and be of use for their own constituents. So the Parliament adjourned sine die.”

In the Lok Sabha session on Monday, a number of opposition MPs had pressed the Finance Minister to make a statement on the COVID-19 situation and the government’s proposed package before the Finance Bill was passed.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 7:42:17 AM |

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