Shortly after the presenting the Union Budget 2021-22, her third since she debuted in 2019, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Monday said the government has decided to spend big on infrastructure and attend to the needs of the health sector.
Addressing the post-budget press conference, Sitharaman said the government decided to give greater impetus to the economy. “And that impetus, we thought, would be qualitatively spent and give necessary demand push if we choose to spend big on infrastructure,” she said.
Terming increased spending on infrastructure and healthcare sector as the two important features of the budget, “If there are two important features of this budget, it is that we chose to spend big on infrastructure which spans across roads, power generation, bridges, ports and so on,” she said.
“The second feature is that I have tried to address the needs of the healthcare sector, and even there, capacities for better health management had to be brought in the light of what we had gone through last year,” Sitharaman added, highlighting the situation that had arisen due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Asserting that the government has spent immensely, the minister said the fiscal deficit, which was at 3.5 per cent in February 2020, has increased to 9.5 per cent of the GDP.
“So we have spent, we have spent and we have spent,” she said, adding that the government, at the same time, has also given a clear glide path for deficit management.
Sitharaman further said the Modi government ensured that the capital expenditure was not delayed during the pandemic. Highlighting some of the announcements made in the budget, she said the Centre has taken progressive steps for the finance sector and that consumers won’t have to pay more on any product due to the agriculture cess. She added that the government has spent a lot on employment generation and creation of infrastructure and also changed the definition of MSMEs, reducing the burden of compliance on small businesses.
Sitharaman further stated that accounting of government expenditure and revenue statements are now a lot more transparent and open.
Amid the ongoing protests by farmers on the borders of the national capital, Sitharaman, before concluding her post-budget press meet, said the government is ready to discuss the three farm reform Bills clause by clause. “I still believe that dialogue is the only solution,” she said.
Earlier, on the floor of the Lok Sabha, the finance minister proposed a massive spending plan focused on healthcare and infrastructure, as the government sought to boost a coronavirus-ravaged economy on course for its biggest annual contraction on record.
“This budget provides every opportunity for our economy to raise and capture the pace that it needs for sustainable growth,” Sitharaman said as she unveiled the annual budget.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the budget as one having the “vision of self-reliance” and featuring “every section of the society”.
The government has proposed Rs 2,23,846 crore outlay for health and well-being for 2021-22, compared to Rs 94,452 crore in the current fiscal, an increase of 137 per cent.
Sitharaman has also proposed Rs 35,000 crore outlay for Covid-19 vaccines for the next fiscal and announced the rollout of pneumococcal vaccines across the country to help save over 50,000 deaths annually.
To augment infrastructure and create jobs, the government has launched Rs 103 lakh crore infra projects and will release a logistic policy soon, besides accelerating highway construction.
During her budget speech, the finance minister said that Rs 1.7 lakh crore has been provided for transport infrastructure in 2020-21. She added that infrastructure agencies of the government will involve youth power in start-ups.
Besides, accelerated development of highways will be taken up with 2,500 km access-controlled highways and 9,000 km of economic corridor, a PTI report said. In addition, there will be 2,000 km each of strategic highway projects and port connectivity projects, Sitharaman said.
A considerable chunk of the budget has been allocated for infrastructure push in the poll-bound states of Kerala, Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
However, the budget is being seen as a disappointment for the salaried class as the government made no change in income tax slabs.