Responding to the Opposition’s charge that inflation, poverty and unemployment continued to rise despite the government’s claims of a booming economy, Sitharaman, during a discussion on the Interim Budget 2024-25 in Lok Sabha, said retail inflation has declined from an average of 6.8% in April-December 2022 to 5.5% in the corresponding period of 2023. Retail inflation based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) stood at 5.7% in December 2023.
She detailed the measures unleashed by govt to check volatility in prices of onions and said govt has progressively increased its buffer size from one lakh metric tonnes (LMT) in 2020-21 to 7 lakh tonnes in 2023-24. She also said govt launched ‘Bharat dal’ to make pulses available at concessional rates across retails markets, and chana dal is now available at Rs 60 per kilo in a single pack and at Rs 55 per kilo for a 30kg pack.
Lok Sabha on Wednesday approved the Rs 47.7 lakh crore Interim Budget with a voice vote. A budget of Rs 1.8 lakh crore for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir was approved and the Finance Bill was also cleared late evening, completing the budget exercise.
During her reply, FM asserted that employment in the country was also looking up, with the workforce strengthening and unemployment rate declining significantly. She said number of people enrolled in EPFO has increased substantially, labour force grew by over 8% in 2022-23, and unemployment decreased from 6.2% in 2017-18 to 3.2% in 2022-23. The minister said while women’s participation in the labour force was rising, youth participation also grew by 6.3% in 2022-23.
Sitharaman said Performance Linked Incentive (PLI) Schemes created 7 lakh direct and indirect employment so far. “Fourteen sectors benefit from the PLI Schemes brought by our government. Manufacturing locations are coming up in 24 states and more than 150 districts. Govt has committed nearly Rs 1.97 lakh crore over five years starting 2021-22. Rs 1.07 lakh crore worth of investment has been committed under the PLI Schemes,” she said.
The FM also said Opposition’s bid to compare per capita incomes of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as faulty, saying that “just comparing per capita GDP does not give a clear picture” and that India had performed much better than both neighbours in “real GDP” terms. Replying to the debate, the minister said the fiscal deficit of the central government is proposed to be brought down to 5.1% of the GDP during 2024-25.