Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman issued a strong critique of the Congress party, asserting that Sonia Gandhi operated as a “super PM” whose leadership lay at the core of economic mismanagement during the UPA regime. Responding to discussions in the Lok Sabha regarding the White Paper on the Indian economy, Sitharaman emphasized that the document’s contents were substantiated by evidence, devoid of unfounded accusations.

Sitharaman condemned the Congress for jeopardizing national security and causing delays in environmental clearances for projects, attributing these issues to leadership failures.

“Leadership was at the heart of UPA’s mismanagement and corruption-driven 10 years of government. The central problem point during UPA era was a rudderless and leaderless government. Sonia Gandhi acted as the ‘Super Prime Minister’ as Chairperson of the NAC. NAC had unaccountable and unconstitutional powers. Why did files go to such an unaccountable and unanswerable body for approval?” Sitharaman asked.

She said the ‘andolan jivis’ who were members of the NAC used to prepare legislations, including Right to Food and Right to Information.

“Should that be acceptable to the members of Parliament?” “When Dr Manmohan Singh was on a tour, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tore up the ordinance in a press conference. Wasn’t that insulting the country’s Prime Minister? He (Rahul Gandhi) didn’t care for his own Prime Minister,” she said. Sitharaman also said under the UPA government there was “glaring mismanagement of defence” sector and its highlight was the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland scam.

“Critical shortage of ammunition & defence equipment was the main feature of 2014 when we inherited the economy. Bullet proof jackets were not available for our soldiers. Night vision goggles were not available,” Sitharaman said. She said ‘Jayanti Tax’ during the UPA tenure delayed environment clearances for projects up to a year.

The average time to clear projects increased to 316 days from 86 days between 2011 and 2014. She said 10 years of dedicated efforts of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government have put the economy back on rails.

“We corrected all misgovernance, and focussed on reforms,” Sitharaman said, adding the average environment clearance time for projects has come down to 70 days. The minister said big-ticket corruptions during the UPA tenure averaged one each year and common people were disillusioned.

The Modi government more than doubled defence budget to Rs 6.22 lakh crore for fiscal 2024-25, from Rs 2.53 lakh crore in 2013-14, she added. Responding to members’ allegation that Enforcement Directorate (ED) has become a government tool, Sitharaman said under Modi government ED has been given “independence” to pursue cases under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

Giving a comparative analysis of the conviction, restitution, extradition and red corner notices issued during UPA versus NDA governments, she said the number was zero during the Congress-led government. During the Modi regime, she said ED filed 1,200 prosecution cases and recovered Rs 16,333 crore and convicted 58 people.

Also, 24 RCNs were issued, 12 offenders were declared fugitives and Rs 906.74 crore recovered from fugitive economic offenders. Talking about the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) schemes, she said, so far 7 lakh direct and indirect jobs have been created. 14 sectors benefit from the PLI Schemes brought by our government. Manufacturing locations are coming up in 24 states and more than 150 districts. The government 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 that average inflation under the Modi government has never crossed 8 per cent, whereas in the last 3 years of UPA’s tenure the annual average inflation was in double digits. Sitharaman said Rs 2.7 lakh crore was saved because of the Aadhaar authenticated Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT).

Earlier, initiating the discussion, Sitharaman said the Congress-led UPA government had put “family first” and left the country in “dire straits” in 2014, but it is now lecturing the Modi government on handling the economy. Sitharaman said the Modi government put “nation first”, and took the economy from ‘fragile five’ to ‘top five’. India is now on the way to become the third largest global economy, she said.

“Ten years of one government with some crisis and 10 years of a different government with a different crisis. The comparison shown in this ‘White Paper’ clearly says how if the government handles it with true sincerity, transparency and putting the nation first, the results are there for everybody to see,” Sitharaman said.

She also said, “When you don’t put the nation first, when you put your first family first, and when you have other consideration than transparency, the results are out there for you to see. So what happened after 2008 when there was a global financial crisis and what happened post-Covid shows clearly that if the intent of the government is sincere, results will be good.” The Modi government leadership is clear in adopting a nation-first policy and is working to make India a developed country by 2047, she said.

(With inputs from PTI)

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