New Delhi: A number of non-legislative decisions covering customs, excise, service tax, insurance and banking to promote growth will be announced in Parliament before the passage of the Finance Bill. Disclosing this here today, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said that the budget presented by him on February 28 focussed on the legislative areas and the broad agenda. The government was now working on non-legislative decisions.
These decisions would involve customs, excise, service tax, insurance and banking, he said, adding "more announcements will be made and more decisions will be taken" during the reply to the debate in Parliament on the Finance Bill. Chidambaram said he was satisfied with what he had done in the budget with a view to restart the growth engine.
"My party appears to be happy. The opposition, of course, would have to be critical. That is the role of the opposition to expose, oppose and depose as it is said. "I am not not perturbed by the criticism. The media, as usual, magnifies certain things and ignores certain other things. So that is part education, part entertainment. It has been a mixed bag of emotions to see the reactions," he said.
Laughing off a question about the absence of any 'big bang' announcements in the budget, the Finance Minister said, "big bang interests only the media. What the people want is small, critical steps that will restart the growth engine." In his view, "the media likes frenzy, the media likes theatre" but people like orderly growth and orderly lives.
Ruling out any "populist" measures between now and the Lok Sabha polls due before May, 2014, Chidambaram pointed out that a government can present only five budgets and the UPA had presented its fifth one. There will be a vote on account next February and then there will be elections.
Answering why the budget was not 'populist' as was expected because of next year's elections, he said the Congress party clearly understands that economic space is restricted today and that the foremost challenge before the country is to re-start the growth engine. To a question on what would be the objective of the new set of decisions that will be taken, Chidambaram said, "I can't say it now. Parliament is in session. Objective is to promote growth."
Asked if it was a conscious decision not to make a splash, Chidambaram said, "that was not my idea ever." On whether his hands were tied in making the budget because the economy is challenged, the Minister replied that "hands were not tied. The economic space is restricted. An economy growing at 5 per cent gives you only so much space, while an economy growing at 9 per cent gives you more space."
He said the tax concession for investment of Rs 100 crore in plant and machinery was a step to promote manufacturing. "Manufacturing is the only way economic growth can be accelerated. Manufactured exports, exports of manufactured goods is the only way to enable foreign exchange and pay for our imports. Therefore in order to revive manufacturing, which is not doing well we have announced the investment allowance," he said.
Asked about the basis for his hope on improved growth in the coming fiscal and whether government's advisors have failed in projections, Chidambaram shot back, "I don't know how competent you and I are to comment on the advices. "I have a Chief Economic Advisor who is a renowned economist. The Prime Minister has an Economic Advisory Council headed by renowned economist and former RBI Governor.
"Both of them in their independent assessment told us that growth will be over 6 per cent and closer to 6.4 per cent or so. So why should I doubt their advice and why should I reject their advice." He also expressed confidence that government would be able to get the insurance and pension bills passed in the current session of Parliament with cooperation from Opposition including the BJP.
"Yes. We are making progress. Just as we were able to pass the banking bill and the Sarfaesi Bill in the last session. I think the consultations we are having with the BJP, the principal opposition party and then we will have it with other parties. I am reasonable that we would be able to pass the insurance bill and the pension bill in the current session."