Focus of budget changed from welfare of people to elections: Cong

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New Delhi, Mar 23 (PTI) The Congress on Tuesday slammed the government in Parliament for changing the focus of the budget from welfare of the people to elections.

Piloting a debate on the appropriation bill of the central government as well as on the issues of Puducherry and Jammu and Kashmir in the Rajya Sabha, Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil said there cannot be an election-oriented budget.

'The budget can never be an election speech. It is meant for the welfare of people. But this tradition has been changed,' he said.

Gohil said the government mentioned four states -- West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Kerala -- repeatedly in the General Budget where assembly elections are scheduled next month.

Further, the government allocated Rs 300 crore for celebration of 60 years of Goa's liberation, keeping in view the assembly elections due in 2022, he added.

While expressing concern over the widening fiscal deficit, the Congress leader said the common man will be badly affected with the increase in the target of union excise duty at Rs 3,61,000 crore during the 2021-22 fiscal from Rs 2,67,000 crore last year.

'Due to coronavirus pandemic, the income of the common man has been badly affected and the government is increasing excise duty and central GST,' he said, adding that the government had reduced fund allocation for rural local bodies and fertiliser subsidy.

The Congress leader urged the government to speed up the COVID-19 vaccination drive, saying that at the current pace, it would take 18 years to achieve 100 per cent vaccination in the country.

Supporting the bill, AIADMK leader M Thambidurai urged the government to release GST arrears and reduce GST rates.

He also said a lot of funds have been allocated for Sri Lanka Tamil rehabilitation and stressed that the Sri Lankan government should ensure devolution of powers to the minority Tamil community in the island nation.

BJP leader Sudhanshu Trivedi said the country's economic growth during the third quarter of 2020-21 fiscal was 0.4 per cent which was something 'positive at least' given the pandemic.

For the 2021-22 fiscal, the pre-budget survey projected the country's growth rate at 11 per cent, while International Monetary Fund pegged it at 11.5 per cent.

The BJP leader said that global agencies have started seeing positive growth in India and urged the opposition to change its negative perspective and start looking at positive aspects.

'Modi is going in the right direction and the government's policies are also in the right direction,' he added.

Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) suggested that government should do something about the small establishments and industries which were closed down during the pandemic. He suggested it can do something for these establishments, where many people lost jobs and were sitting at home, in the 2021-22 budget itself or through revised estimates. He was of the view that if this situation (lower manufacturing output) prevailed then people would be left with no resources in the next four to five years, except from the farm sector.

He said that there was a big crisis as small industries closed down during the pandemic and he added that there should be some provision or allocation of funds to revive these units.

He was of the view that the only sector which performed well during the pandemic was agriculture which provided employment to 55 per cent of the population. But agriculture sector would not be sufficient and there was a need to do something for real estate, manufacturing and small industries, he said. Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD) said that Bihar is the third world of India and the country cannot rise at international level while taking Bihar along with it.

Jha said, 'The economic situation of the country is very bad.' He said it was worrisome and it should be transformed into 'doables and imperatives'.

He suggested that there is need to increase man days and wages under MGNREGA (rural employment guarantee scheme) as the scheme has done well even during pandemic.

He also brought attention of the House toward the digital divide in the society which was increased during the pandemic.

About the railways, he said that one should not sell the ancestral properties in the country but should add to it. The governments that spent such reserves earned after a long time are not respected later. V Vijayasai Reddy (YSRCP) suggested that goods and services tax should be removed from charitable institutions like the Tirupati Balaji temple which was paying Rs 120 crore annually and gets a GST refund of Rs nine crore.

He told the House that prior to GST regime, the temple was exempted from the state sales tax.

The others who participated in the discussion were Joginipally Santosh Kumar (TRS), Ashok Bajpai (BJP) and K R Kumar (TDP) and Sayed Nasir Hussain (Congress). PTI LUX KKS AAR