Economy is near the ICU, says P Chidambaram

Centre not fixing problems, living in denial, PC says.

Hyderabad: Former Union minister and Congress leader P. Chidambaram said that successive missteps of the Centre in the form of demonetisation and GST had “destroyed” in the country’s economy. He said the economy was in dire straits.

“It is near the ICU. But PM (Narendra) Modi and FM (Nirmala) Sitharaman are refusing to wheel (the economy) into the ICU,” Mr Chidambaram said while speaking on the Union Budget at a college in the city on Saturday.

Calling Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget speech “exhausting”, Mr Chidambaram said, “At no point during the speech did we learn about the actual state of the economy. She seemed to be describing the economy of a mythical nation.”

The former minister noted that GDP growth had been negative for six consecutive quarters. “In the past six months, exports have registered negative growth, agriculture and manufacturing grew at two per cent, credit loans to MSME saw negative growth. Food inflation is nearly 10 per cent. No indicators are positive. In spite of this, the government lives in denial,” he said.

Mr Chidambaram admitted that the NDA government had achieved reasonable growth in 2014-15 and 2015-16. “Then came the mistakes. In 2016, demonetisation was done, which was a monumental blunder. It killed jobs, destroyed industries. MSME industries which went under then are yet to recover. The next year, the GST was implemented — there is nothing wrong with GST as an idea but it was implemented in a flawed way,” he said.

The senior Congress leader said the Modi government was “anti-poor”. “The government is spending a cumulative `1 lakh crore less on agriculture and employment guarantee for daily wage workers. Wages in rural India have been stagnant; they have only become poorer. There are cuts in the midday meal scheme as well,” he said.

The economy’s problems, he was, were two-fold. “On the one hand, there is no demand. People don’t have the money to buy anything. Secondly, there are no investments. So many giant corporations are sitting on giant piles of cash but they don’t want to invest,” he said.

Mr Chidambaram also took the example of Coffee Day founder V.G. Siddhartha, who committed suicide a few months ago. Mr Chidambaram said Siddhartha couldn’t bear the “officials’ harassment”.

“The least that the government could do is say ‘mea culpa’ (acknowledge its fault),” Mr Chidambaram said. The seasoned politician also, with a heavy dose of sarcasm, said the government could ask former prime minister Manmohan Singh for advice on how to improve the economy.

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