NEW DELHI: Anurag Thakur, the junior minister for finance, has been in the thick of action for the last few months as the government responded to the economic challenge posed by the slowdown and the pandemic.
In an interview, he tells TOI that the economy will see double-digit growth next year due to a massive capital expenditure. Excerpts:
Rahul Gandhi has said that the budget is for 1% of the population and the government should have given money to the people.
If Rahulji had heard the budget speech for an hour and 40 minutes, he would have understood what’s there in the budget. His advisors should certainly tell him that on budget day, everyone praised it, the stock markets responded have positively. This shows that the Modi government has done what the country wanted resulting in a positive sentiment among people.
There is a criticism over the government selling family silver to manage its expenses. How do you respond to that?
If taxpayers’ money goes into paying salaries and bearing expenses of Air India and other entities that require funding every year, then the government needs to evaluate if it can run them successfully or let someone else run it.
We have made it very clear that there will be strategic, with a minimum one and maximum four PSUs, and in non-strategic sectors, there will be no PSUs. Those in the non-strategic sector will be privatised over a period of time, depending on the market situation. It will also help these companies grow.
For example, we have pumped in close to Rs 5 lakh crore into banks. If a better management takes over some of them, it will also help the government avoid some recapitalisation.
The government should spend money earned through taxes on social welfare schemes, create infrastructure and in other priority areas, whether national security or providing good quality healthcare, education or water. The government’s focus is very clear: borrow, build, monetise and repay.
Earlier there was discussion around merger, now you have decided to sell two banks and an insurance company. It is facing opposition?
You have four general insurance companies in the public sector. If the private players are profitable then why aren’t the government owned ones making profit? Do we need four of them? We will still have three PSU players, just as we will have 10 public sector banks even after two are privatised.
The feedback was that in several non-core sectors, the government should not be in business, especially where it is not doing well. It should be a facilitator. We are also setting up a development financial institution (DFI). So, we are putting money where it is required.
Will you privatise the weaker banks?
We will decide in due course. NITI Aayog will work on it and the cabinet will decide. We can consider converting IIFCL into a DFI.
Do you expect opposition from bank unions? Have they been consulted given that you are facing criticism that there was inadequate consultation on farm laws?
If banks earn more profits, the employees will benefit. In case of agriculture, there have been discussions for 20 years. There was committee with former CMs Bhupinder Singh Hooda (Haryana), Parkash Singh Badal (Punjab) and (former agriculture minister) Sharad Pawar as members that had supported it. Congress had it in its manifesto. In Lok Sabha, the concerns were addressed.
We have made it clear that we have paid more towards minimum support price, we have increased procurement. When it comes to banks, there were concerns when we merged some of them. Today, they are performing better. We will speak to whoever needs to be spoken to.
Several individuals are unhappy with the steps on PF and ULIP taxation.
The scheme (PF) is for workers, who are paid 8% tax-free. If someone invests Rs 2 crore, is it fair to provide (annual) tax-free interest income of Rs 15-16 lakh to them? People contributing up to Rs 2.5 lakh do not have to pay tax, less than 1% will be affected.
There have been several mini budgets since you came in. Do you expect that to continue into the next fiscal?
I don’t think so. Things seem to be coming back on track, GST collections are better, supply side issues are getting better. The only issue is services but that is also improving as most sectors are opening up.