Kolkata: Former Union minister P Chidambaram said today he would have resigned had he been in the shoes of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who was in an “unenviable” position while presenting this year’s budget.
“If I was in Jaitley’s position, what I would have done? I would have resigned,” Chidambaram told an interactive session organised by the Bharat Chamber of Commerce here.
He was speaking about fiscal consolidation in the context of the Union Budget for 2018-19.
“Jaitley must have been in an unenviable position to read out a Budget speech written by others,” he said.
Criticising the Budget, Chidambaram said the government was a total failure in terms of fiscal consolidation, the consequences of which were “frightening” in the sense that it would cause inflation and borrowing plans to go haywire.
“In such a situation, they might resort to savage taxation by hiking fuel prices as it is the biggest cash cow for any government,” the senior Congress leader said.
Chidambaram, a former Union finance minister, said although the central government had the good fortune of lower crude prices, it failed to pass the benefit on to the customers.
The present Budget talked about pegging the fiscal deficit at 3.3% of GDP by 2018-19, which seemed unlikely as the revenue and expenditure figures were “suspect”, he said.
About the Goods and Services Tax, Chidambaram said it was not the one which the previous UPA government had thought of.
“We suggested a single neutral rate of 18%. Now we have so many rates. This is not GST. It is giving a bad name to GST,” he said.
He said due to demonetisation of high-value currency notes, the farm sector came under stress and joblessness was witnessed in the small and micro sector.
He dubbed the National Health Protection Scheme announced in the Budget as “nothing but jumla (rhetoric)”.
Chidambaram was also critical of former president Pranab Mukherjee, also a finance minister in the UPA-II government, over the latter announcing a series of stimulus packages for reviving the private sector, hit by the recession of 2008.
“What I feel is that kind of spending done by the government was not wise. It did dent fiscal stability and caused huge inflation,” he added.