Should India spend millions on Narendra Modi’s aircraft when the poor are getting poorer?

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This is an edited excerpt from a speech given by Saugata Roy, a member of the parliament, in the Lok Sabha on Dec. 15. India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley on Dec. 11 had submitted a demand for supplementary grants worth Rs56,256 crore in the parliament. A supplementary grant is the additional grant of funds needed by the government to meet its expenditure.

Before I go into the supplementary demands for grants, let me say one or two things about the economy over which Shri Jaitley is presiding. As was said by Shakespeare, “All is not right in the State of Denmark,” all is not right in the economy of India. Today, I saw in The Economic Times this morning that the value of rupee has fallen to Rs67.10, which is the lowest in 20 years. Now, what does the fall in value of the rupee mean? It means that the rupee is not strong vis- à-vis the dollar. They say that it has to do with the US Federal rate cut. I am not going into the economic theories, but I say that this is a bad sign that our economy is not doing as well as it should.

Sir, I want to repeat the other thing, which he was mentioning, that inflation has been in check. They say so, but what is the position with regard to retail inflation? The inflationary trend in the wholesale price index has been negative, but pulses and onion among the food item category turned costlier with inflation at 52.98% and 85.66% during October. As you know, Sir, the price of arhar dal crossed Rs200 in some parts of the country. Though they may claim that inflation is in check, the price rise is not in check. We will have a discussion on price rise, and I shall discuss those matters at that time.

Lastly, I want to say that the government has not been able to bring black money from abroad as was promised before the 2014 elections. It has not been able to bring in investment to the extent possible. Shri Narendra Modi had raised hopes among the people of this country, especially the youth, that there will be investment, and hence, employment. That has not seen the light of the day. The common man has also not got Rs15 lakh in their bank accounts which they thought would come when they opened accounts under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. These are the points which I want to place on record.

Now, the finance minister has brought this supplementary budget under article 115 of the Constitution with the recommendation of the president and under article 113 read with clauses 1(a) and 2 of article 115. What is the total amount? The total amount of supplementary budget is Rs56,256 crore.

It is not a very big amount. If you take the total budget, it was Rs17 lakh crore. So, this is only 3.2%. It is not a big supplementary budget. Mr. Jaitley has further done some good “housekeeping” by reducing the cost to the extent of Rs38,000 crore as a result of which the net outgo, extra income, extra expenditure is only to the tune of Rs18,000 crore. So, I would praise him for his good financial “housekeeping” or book-keeping.

But let me, at this stage, point out that when we spoke on Mr. Jaitley’s budget, what were the things that we had raised here from the opposition side. We had said that: “Yes, the Centre has devolved more money to the states as per the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission and from 32% it has been raised to 42%”. Now, the treasury benches were gloating over the matter. But, as we pointed out, this bigger transfer actually meant curtailing of the anti-poverty programmes meant for relieving the poor.

Which were the projects on which there was no increase? MGNREGA was not given any increase. There were drastic cuts in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), in ICDS, in the National Rural Health Mission—all meant for nutrition, education and health of the common people of the country.  (Interruptions) We had hope that whatever experience Mr. Jaitley and the ruling party had of the Bihar elections, they will turn away from their political thinking and start doing things for the poor. I was expecting a supplementary budget in which these shortfalls would be made up. But on the day the government/ruling arty—which had invested so much time and money into the Bihar elections—got one of the worst rubbings in recent times from the people of Bihar, what did Mr. Jaitley do? Mr. Jaitley, as finance minister, announced a series of areas in which FDI would be allowed. In short, he opened his arms wide to say: “Well, we are not being able to revive the economy. Come one, come all, invest in India.”

Now, we have been hearing these slogans for a long time like Make in India, Bake in India and Cake in India. So, this is a continuation of the same, and he opened the door to the FDI.

Having spoken in general, now I shall only deal with a few specific grants. As I said, out of the Rs56,000 crore, not all are big allotments. Somewhere he has spent Rs1 crore extra and somewhere Rs2 crore extra. (Interruptions) For the cabinet, there is the supplementary budget of Rs196 crore. And one of the important items of expenditure is for meeting the expenditure towards clearing pending claims for maintenance of PM’s aircraft of Rs144 crore. In a poor country, we are spending Rs144 crore extra because the PM has to fly all over the world to bring in Make in India. So, Rs144 crore extra is given in the supplementary demands. Good! Now, he will explain how this helped the poor people in the country. (Interruptions)

Sir, he has given extra money for reviving the Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore Limited and for relieving the Indian Telephone Industries Limited. I support these demands. He has got the One Rank One Pension (OROP) on his head. The immediate outgo for pensions to the military personnel will go up and he has given an extra Rs5,700 crore for the military though they are not very happy. Already the chiefs of staff are complaining about unfair treatment in the Seventh Pay Commission and veterans are again demanding that they will start an agitation. It is a problem which I thought would be solved. So, even with Rs5,700 crore, I am not sure if the problem will be solved.

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