Railway and Commerce Minister on Friday hit out at former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his comments on the alleged failure of the BJP’s ‘double-engine growth’, saying the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) regime was marked by rampant corruption and that “every rule was disregarded and the basic tenets of transparency were discarded” under Dr. Singh’s leadership.
Mr. Goyal reiterated that there was no question of privatisation of railways and that it was — and always would — remain the country’s property. He, however, stated that in order to improve the condition of the sector, the government was looking to increase investment from the private sector but by means of public-private partnerships.
The UPA regime under Dr. Singh had bequeathed a doddering economy to the nation and that all sorts of scams — be it the telecom fraud of ₹1.76 lakh crore or the ‘Coalgate’ scam of ₹1.86 lakh crore — occurred during the Congress-led government, he alleged.
“There were scams exploding all around Dr. Singh, who only had one answer: that these are the compulsions of coalition politics… it is shameful that a PM is speaking of ‘compulsion politics’ to save his government rather than talking of national interest,” he said.
“Being the Coal Minister, I have seen every one of those files and I was stunned that the so-called ‘honest leadership’ of Dr. Singh could have approved of these files and coal block allocations. The fact that so much corruption thrived under him put a big question mark on his leadership and that of the UPA government. The fiscal deficit rose to 6-7% and its consequences had to be suffered by us for the next several years.”
Mr. Goyal said he found it surprising that an eminent economist like Dr. Singh ‘lacked’ even an elementary understanding of the changes that the BJP government had brought about in the last five years. “We too are running a coalition government. But in stark contrast to the UPA, the NDA has proved that a coalition can function for the country’s interests,” he remarked.
“Despite Congress rule for so many years, why is it that the railways’ infrastructure increased only by a mere 30-35%, while the demand increased by 16 times. In this situation, it is natural that the railways should be overloaded,” he said.
More funds for rail infrastructure
Mr. Goyal claimed that in the last five years, the BJP government had doubled the funds earmarked for improving the rail infrastructure, while in Maharashtra, the funds had been quadrupled. “From 6000 crore till 2014 [for Maharashtra], we have increased the outlay to ₹22,000 crore for improving the rail infrastructure. Hence, we would welcome public-private partnership in some areas, as it is in the country’s interests,” he said.
Responding to a question on Nobel Prize-winning economist Abhijeet Banerjee slamming the present state of the economy, he observed, “I congratulate Dr. Abhijit Banerjee for his Nobel Prize. But his thinking is totally left-leaning as evinced in his support of NYAY.”
Mr. Goyal further claimed that when the Indian public had apparently “completely rejected” Dr. Banerjee’s thinking, then the Centre did not take much notice.
The Minister expressed the confidence that the BJP-Sena ‘Mahayuti’ would get “a massive mandate” in the coming Assembly polls. The election appeared to be “extremely one-sided.” “This does not mean that the BJP or its workers are complacent. But I know that the public of Maharashtra have already made up their minds.” All eight seats in Pune city would be won by the BJP and that the ‘Mahayuti’ would cross the projected target of 220 seats, he said.
‘No money borrowed from RBI’
Mr. Goyal refuted suggestions that the Centre had ‘borrowed’ funds to the tune of ₹1.76 lakh crore from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The funds were excess reserve stocks lying unutilised, he noted.
“Today, the RBI has reserves to the tune of ₹10-11 lakh crore and its requirement of such massive reserves and their utilisation seem remote in the future. Even if the price of the US dollar comes down to ₹50, even then there are so many reserves that will not affect the Indian economy… and the possibility of that happening is remote,” he said, adding that he personally believed that the RBI could have given the Centre more funds.
While conceding that the demand had been slow in the previous two quarters, he said that the prior to elections, the demand was generally subdued. He, however, expressed the confidence that the government would be successful in reversing the slowdown.
“The Finance Minister has taken a number of proactive steps gauging the economy from time to time and I am sure that both investment and demand will pick up soon,” he asserted.