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Embattled Indian govt defends record in pre-poll budget

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India's embattled government said Monday it had lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty as it announced an interim budget ahead of elections that it is widely tipped to lose.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram trumpeted the Congress-led government's achievements during its decade in office, as he presented the budget to cover spending until the general elections due by May.

Struggling to be heard above protesting lawmakers, Chidambaram steered clear of a populist spending spree to win over voters, despite almost certain defeat at the polls to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Chidambaram said the fiscal deficit would be contained at 4.6 percent of gross domestic product in the current financial year, beating his own target of 4.8 percent.

The minister estimated that the fiscal deficit would shrink further to 4.1 percent in the next financial year.

Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram arrives at parliament in New Delhi on February 17  2014
Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram arrives at parliament in New Delhi on February 17, 2014
Prakash Singh, AFP/File

"I can confidently assert that the fiscal deficit is declining, the current account deficit is constrained, inflation is moderated; exchange rate is stable," the minister told the parliament.

"All of this is a result of hard work, my mother and Harvard (University) taught me the value of hard work," he said.

"I reject the argument of policy paralysis," he added.

"Let history be the judge of the last 10 years."

Asia's third largest economy is facing the worst economic slowdown in a decade, with growth at 4.5 percent last year, along with shrinking manufacturing, poor jobs growth and stubbornly high inflation.

Opinion polls show the Congress party headed for defeat at the elections, with voters disenchanted by a string of corruption scandals as well as perceived mismanagement of the economy and policy paralysis.

A vendor sells job application forms at his stand in Hyderabad on February 14  2014
A vendor sells job application forms at his stand in Hyderabad on February 14, 2014
Noah Seelam, AFP/File

But Chidambaram said the government had successfully steered India through the global economic slowdown, before listing a string of domestic achievements, including helping the poor and hiking food production.

"Our greatest achievement is lifting 140 million people out of poverty," he told lawmakers, some of whom were angrily chanting against plans to create a new state in the country's southeast.

"Only a handful of countries were able to keep their heads above the water (because of the global slowdown) and India was one of them."

In an attempt to boost India's slumping manufacturing sector, he announced a cut in excise duties for the car industry, including for SUVs from 30 percent to 24 percent and from 12 percent to eight percent for other vehicles.

In other measures, he announced a 10 percent spending increase for the defence sector, to boost pensions for retiring personnel, as well as a moratorium for students paying back soft loans.

India's economy grew at just 4.5 percent last year, far below the near double-digit growth enjoyed in the past decade.

On Monday the minister forecast growth of 4.9 percent in the current financial year which ends March 31.

While cutting expenditure to lower the fiscal deficit is a standard procedure worldwide, rolling back the government's presence can also hurt growth in a country with widespread poverty and scant infrastructure, analysts say.

India’s embattled government said Monday it had lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty as it announced an interim budget ahead of elections that it is widely tipped to lose.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram trumpeted the Congress-led government’s achievements during its decade in office, as he presented the budget to cover spending until the general elections due by May.

Struggling to be heard above protesting lawmakers, Chidambaram steered clear of a populist spending spree to win over voters, despite almost certain defeat at the polls to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Chidambaram said the fiscal deficit would be contained at 4.6 percent of gross domestic product in the current financial year, beating his own target of 4.8 percent.

The minister estimated that the fiscal deficit would shrink further to 4.1 percent in the next financial year.

Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram arrives at parliament in New Delhi on February 17  2014

Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram arrives at parliament in New Delhi on February 17, 2014
Prakash Singh, AFP/File

“I can confidently assert that the fiscal deficit is declining, the current account deficit is constrained, inflation is moderated; exchange rate is stable,” the minister told the parliament.

“All of this is a result of hard work, my mother and Harvard (University) taught me the value of hard work,” he said.

“I reject the argument of policy paralysis,” he added.

“Let history be the judge of the last 10 years.”

Asia’s third largest economy is facing the worst economic slowdown in a decade, with growth at 4.5 percent last year, along with shrinking manufacturing, poor jobs growth and stubbornly high inflation.

Opinion polls show the Congress party headed for defeat at the elections, with voters disenchanted by a string of corruption scandals as well as perceived mismanagement of the economy and policy paralysis.

A vendor sells job application forms at his stand in Hyderabad on February 14  2014

A vendor sells job application forms at his stand in Hyderabad on February 14, 2014
Noah Seelam, AFP/File

But Chidambaram said the government had successfully steered India through the global economic slowdown, before listing a string of domestic achievements, including helping the poor and hiking food production.

“Our greatest achievement is lifting 140 million people out of poverty,” he told lawmakers, some of whom were angrily chanting against plans to create a new state in the country’s southeast.

“Only a handful of countries were able to keep their heads above the water (because of the global slowdown) and India was one of them.”

In an attempt to boost India’s slumping manufacturing sector, he announced a cut in excise duties for the car industry, including for SUVs from 30 percent to 24 percent and from 12 percent to eight percent for other vehicles.

In other measures, he announced a 10 percent spending increase for the defence sector, to boost pensions for retiring personnel, as well as a moratorium for students paying back soft loans.

India’s economy grew at just 4.5 percent last year, far below the near double-digit growth enjoyed in the past decade.

On Monday the minister forecast growth of 4.9 percent in the current financial year which ends March 31.

While cutting expenditure to lower the fiscal deficit is a standard procedure worldwide, rolling back the government’s presence can also hurt growth in a country with widespread poverty and scant infrastructure, analysts say.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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