Hours after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal questioned the state of central government finances, citing his opposition to political party giveaways, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman accused the leader of the AAP to put a “perverse spin” on the debate and said that spending on health and education was never considered in this category.
Addressing a Delhi press conference, Kejriwal said: ‘For the past few days it has been rather disconcerting how the free services offered to the public have been pitted against each other. It is said that if this is not stopped, governments across the country will go bankrupt. They say this will lead to a crisis and all these services should be stopped immediately. It also creates doubts about the economic well-being of the central government. Such huge opposition makes me wonder if he is in bad shape.
He said: “For 70 to 75 years, children have received free education in public schools and the poor have received free medicine in public hospitals. People also receive a free ration. So what happened all of a sudden to cause so much ruckus to be created to roll back these public services? I really hope and pray that the central government is financially sound and thinks wisely.
Calling for a “genuine debate” on the issue, Sitharaman told reporters: “Delhi’s chief minister has put a perverse spin on the debate on freebies. Health and education have never been branded as freebies. No Indian government has ever denied them, so by categorizing education and health as gifts, Kerjiwal tries to instill a sense of worry and fear in the minds of the poor.
Kejriwal, who was attacked for introducing schemes such as free electricity in Delhi and Punjab, also questioned the need to introduce the Agnipath scheme for military recruitment.
“It was said that this scheme was put in place because the bill for military pensions had swelled so much that the central government was struggling to bear the burden. This happened for the first time since independence that a central government said such a thing,” he said.
Referring to the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Delhi’s Chief Minister said, “Through MGNREGA, the central government used to give 100 days of guaranteed employment to the poorest. They now say they don’t have the funds to run MGNREGA. There has been a 25% reduction in funds allocated to this program this year compared to the previous year.
He also alleged that taxpayers’ money was used to cancel taxes on the “super rich and huge corporations” while the tax was imposed “on food products consumed by the poor”.
A plea against gifts promised by political parties is pending before the Supreme Court. On Wednesday, the Electoral Commission had said that, being a constitutional authority, it “may not be appropriate” for it to be part of a committee proposed by the Supreme Court to suggest ways to deal with the issue.
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted political opponents and accused them of promising handouts in exchange for votes. Calling the distribution of gifts a “revdi culture”, he said it was “very dangerous” for the country, its development and its well-being.
Ahead of elections in Punjab earlier this year, the AAP had made a pre-election guarantee to provide 300 units of free energy each month – it came into effect in July. After coming to power, the new AAP government of Punjab requested a special financial package of Rs 1 lakh crore from the Center spread over two years to improve the poor financial health of the state.