She also suggested that funds were not a problem and headroom was available under schemes, such as loans based on government guarantee. “The Budget, which is designed for a Covid-affected economy, will have to go down to the people…We are not even taking that on board, and we have started talking about ‘where is the big deal stimulus’?… Many of the schemes which were announced during Atmanirbhar Bharat are still being used,” she told TOI in an interview.
The minister said while assessment of the full impact of the second wave is underway, sectors such as hospitality, tourism and contact-based industries have been hit harder than most. The government expects a dip in GST collections, but the decrease will be temporary with the mop-up expected to rise as the economy reopens.
The minister also responded to Opposition criticism of the government’s handling of the second wave and the vaccination strategy. “When they speak, they should also say how they have contributed to vaccine hesitancy in this country….How they questioned Indian vaccine producers and their credibility…They said ‘I will not take it, that is Modi’s vaccine, that’s BJP vaccine’. Today, you are saying ‘Oh, where is the vaccine?’ Be consistent. You want it or you don’t want it? Make up your mind,” she said.
Expressing sorrow over loss of lives in the second wave, Sitharaman said it was difficult to predict the pace at which cases rose, resulting in shortage of facilities. “States, Centre, private hospitals, medical fraternity — who would have imagined the extent (and) intensity with which it came and the speed with which it spread?… So how much preparation would have been adequate… For instance, the opposition parties, were their states prepared?” she said, while urging all parties to work together.
The FM also said money would be provided for vaccines from the Rs 35,000 crore that has been set aside in the budget, as firms start supplies.
“We know the manufacturing capacity of the two Indian vaccine manufacturers. I have given them money up to July in advance. While giving that I have not even asked for any guarantees. We made that exception to the rule. I have to pay, but which government pays all that on April 1? As you use, so we give. That’s so with MGNERGA, education, health, social budget. Let them supply. We are also looking at imports, a lot of things are happening,” said Sitharaman.