Govt's fiscal stimulus package hopelessly inadequate; Not the time to worry about fiscal deficit: Chidambaram

New Delhi, May 18 (PTI) The Congress on Monday said the fiscal stimulus package announced by the government is 'hopelessly inadequate' given the gravity of the economic crisis and claimed it amounts to only Rs 1.86 lakh crore, which is 0.91 per cent of the GDP.

The party sought a revised and comprehensive package of 10 per cent of the GDP, and batted for 'additional expenditure over and above the budgeted spendings', saying it is not the time to worry about fiscal deficit.

Senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram said the stimulus package has left several sections like the poor, migrants, farmers, labourers, workers, small shopkeepers and middle class high and dry.

'In our view, a fiscal stimulus of Rs 1,86,650 crore amounting to barely 0.91 per cent of GDP will be totally inadequate given the gravity of the economic crisis and the dire situation in which the people find themselves,' he said at an online press conference.

Chidambaram said most analysts, rating agencies and banks have placed the size of the fiscal stimulus between 0.8 to 1.5 per cent.

On Sunday, former union minister and Congress leader Anand Sharma accused the government of misleading people with its 'trickery, fakery, quackery' and said the economic measures announced by the Centre amounted to only 1.6 per cent of India's GDP, i.e. worth Rs 3.22 lakh crore instead of Rs 20 lakh crore as claimed by the prime minister.

'We express our thorough disappointment and request the government to reconsider the stimulus package and announce a revised and comprehensive fiscal stimulus package of not less than Rs 10 lakh crore of real additional expenditure equivalent to 10 per cent of GDP,' Chidamabaram said.

Later, he tweeted, 'On behalf of the Congress I reacted today to the so-called Rs 20 lakh crore package. At the end of the day, the market too has reacted.' The stock markets fell sharply on Monday, with the benchmark Sensex crashing 1,069 points to close at its lowest level in nearly six weeks, dragged mainly by heavy selling in financial and auto counters as the government's stimulus package failed to live up to market expectations.

Chidambaram earlier also accused the government of being opportunistic by pushing reforms during the coronavirus crisis. It is bypassing stakeholer consultation, legislation and discussion in Parliament on the package and this will be strongly resisted and challenged in the House, he added.

'I think the government is deliberatelysidelining Parliament. A meeting of the Parliamentary Committee should at least be held to discuss the fiscal stimulus package,' the Congress leader said.

'If there is a genuine reform that takes economy forward, we will support it but we will have to read the fine print,' he said.

'The government is being opportunistic. They are just announcing what one person or one group of persons think is right without thinking through the consequences. Editorials and articles today point out downside of some of the announcements,' Chidambaram noted.

'You can't fool all the people all the time. This fiscal stimulus package is inadequate,' he said.

The former finance minister said 'we note with deep regret' that the fiscal stimulus package has left 'several sections high and dry, including the bottom half of the population (13 crore families), migrant workers, farmers, landless agricultural labour, daily-wage non-agricultural labour, workers who have been laid off or retrenched and those in unorganised or unregistered businesses or units who have lost their jobs'.

He said the self-employed, who have no work, seven crore shopkeepers, lower middle class families, who have run out of cash and are forced to borrow, and the 5.8 crore MSMEs have also been left out in the package.

He also alleged that the government was 'living in an echo chamber'.

'They listen to their own voices, they listen to their own opinion,' Chidambaram said, adding 'this package is to be rejected as inadequate'.

'This is a package for all kinds of sins and it seems as though Santa Claus is carrying a big bag and pulling out one item after another,' he noted, alleging they are mixing up things and confusing people.

He also termed as a 'complete mismanagement' the handling of migrants' issue by the Centre.

He said the Congress has analysed the contents of the five tranches, and except for 1.86 lakh crore of additional expenditure, the rest of the announcements are included already in budget expenditure.

Chidambaram said there can be no fiscal stimulus to the economy without additional expenditure over and above the budgeted expenditure and this has been acknowledged by the finance minister.

'The truth cannot be hidden for long.' To a question on fear of rating agencies downgrading India, the former finance minister said he does not think rating agencies run the country.

'Every country in the world is in distress, practically every country in Europe is facing a recession. If rating agencies downgrade us, they will have to downgrade every European country too.

'This is an unnecessary fear. We will have to face that situation. As long as our foreign exchange reserves are high, inflation is under control, we are on the right path. Demand grows and GDP picks up, why would a rating agency downgrade us,' he asked.

Chidambaram also noted that it is not the time to worry about fiscal deficit.

'If additional expenditure turns out to be another Rs 10 lakh crore and additional borrowing is Rs 10 lakh crore, obviously fiscal deficit will go up but that should not be a matter of worry,' he added. PTI SKC RT