Calling her stint as FM during the pandemic “the most challenging assignment yet”, Sitharaman said she was not upset with the criticism that the recent stimulus package was too little
Within days of announcing a series of measures to help businesses deal with the lockdown impact, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in an interview to Business Standard that the government was with industry and would do as much as possible to repair the damage when companies were going through the most stressful time.
Replying to a specific question on whether there would be a stimulus package 6.0, after five days of back-to-back announcements last week, the FM said, “As we go along, we will see. We cannot shut the doors.”
Calling her stint as FM during the pandemic “the most challenging assignment yet”, Sitharaman said she was not upset with the criticism that the recent stimulus package was too little and that it would cost the exchequer just 1 per cent of the GDP rather than the promised 10 per cent.
She believes the recent announcements on reforms, even as many of them have been in the works for long, would yield results during the exceptionally different time now. Will it be like the 1991 reforms following the balance of payment crisis? “This time the crisis is much more intense and that should help in pushing them (reforms) through,’’ she said, while adding that this government had learnt from the UPA mistakes.
“We have learnt lessons from 2008 to 2013. (We have) made sure that we would not be repeating some mistakes. We have to be careful in the interests of the country.’’
Responding to the criticism that the stimulus package had disappointed industry, the FM said, “I am not dealing with my personal money, I am dealing with public money. I have huge responsibility to be careful. There will be a time when I will have to stand in Parliament and say this is what we have done.’’
Pointing out that the recent package followed an intense consultative exercise, even more than what is done for the Union Budget, Sitharaman said it was “unbelievably in depth’’. The consultation process was spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who took numerous meetings on the subject before the Rs 20-trillion package was announced, she said.
Responding to a question on the confusing signals emanating from the government on global retail chains even while the prime minister is talking about joining global value chains, Sitharaman said, “I admit the signal should have much more clarity. The issue would be addressed.”
On what her broad message would be for India Inc, Sitharaman said she would continue to be engaged with industry as it coped with the stress.
In fact, she has scheduled video-conference interactions with business chambers such as the CII and Ficci on Wednesday and Thursday. “We will try to help as much as possible.’’
While Sitharaman did not give a timeline for lifting the nationwide lockdown completely and for flights resuming operations as the situation was still unfolding, she ruled out a Covid-linked Budget — something that has been talked about in the power circles.
On the handling of migrants issue, she said, “There have been lessons in hindsight, we fully understand the emotional trauma…. The Centre and the states had to work together on this….the speed with which states responded could have been faster.’’ But the pandemic is new for everyone and there’s no finger pointing here, according to the FM.