From elections to growth; from oil to middle class: Highlights of News18 Network’s Exclusive interview with Arun Jaitley

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has ruled out advancing the Lok Sabha elections, flagged rising oil prices as a cause for worry and said that with normal monsoons and steady crude prices, India will achieve 8 percent growth.

Here are the highlights of an exclusive interview with News 18 Network:

Elections

“Government wants simultaneous elections, but it is not necessary that dates will be advanced for that. Till the time Constitution is changed, and there is consensus on the issues, the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections will not overlap. And going by the reaction the issue evoked, it seems people (opposition) are not in favour of any such move.”

Corporate income tax

“Three years ago, I had announced that we would gradually bring it down to 25 percent and waive off all the exemptions. I have been gradually stepping up the number of companies which come under the 25 percent category. Today, 99 percent of the companies with Rs 250-crore turnover and below are all within 25 percent category. Of course, I walk the talk….I have set a roadmap.”

Oil prices

“We have to see to what extent the crude oil prices rise. Today, crude oil prices have touched USD 70 per barrel. It is in the outer periphery of our comfort threshold. I want it to remain below this level. If it goes above this level, since we are a net buyer, it will have an impact on inflation. While we have one eye on monsoon, the other eye is on crude oil prices.”

8 percent-plus growth

“Some indicators, which are known as green shoots in the language of business, such as business confidence, PMI (purchase managers’ index), core (infrastructure) sector growth, are all good. We need to see what happens next. Monsoon is a factor for agricultural demand. I want oil prices to definitely not go higher than it already is. (8 percent growth achievable) If such situations (normal monsoon and steady oil prices) persist, I think, if we reach 8 percent, it will be a good achievement, as no other country is able to even touch 7 percent. If we cross 8 percent, I will be very satisfied with myself. The GDP growth rate should be analysed in the given global conditions.”

Middles class being ignored in the Budget

If there is one group of people I feel very strongly for, it is the middle class. If you take this segment of tax payers, I have consistently given some relief in some form or the other within the limits of the Budget. In my first year, I raised the income tax exemption limit from Rs 2 to Rs 2.5 lakhs; I raised the Section 80 (C) deduction limit from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh; I raised the housing loan deduction limit from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh…In every year’s Budget I have given relief of Rs 8,000-10,000 crore relief to the middle class. This year, even though my affordability and fiscal debt are very tight, I have given Rs 8,000 relief to the salaried class. In this year’s Budget, I am spending Rs 12,000 crore on this class, which is probably a little more than what would be spend on the health insurance scheme.

Rajasthan bypoll loss

“I have spoken to chief minister (Vasundhara Raje). And the party is working on corrective measures if they are necessary.”

Growing protectionism

“I am concerned because once this tendency picks up, all countries would try and play the same game. We have seen from our experience that opening out has helped us… Among the various things in the last two-and-a-half decades that has helped the Indian economy is the fact that we have become more confident. We are open to investment. We don’t think that a foreign investor is coming here to the detriment of the Indian economy. Today, we see him as someone who is bringing in capital which will create jobs in India.”

Crisis in Judiciary

“I think this is not the first time that this has happened. It does not happen very often, but I do not think this is the last time this is happening. I have great faith in our institutions and their resilience. I am quite sure that they are competent enough to resolve it themselves.”

Banking Reforms

Could bank reforms have come earlier? “Could have. Because we were making all honest efforts and so was RBI. They wanted to make sure through various schemes, whether the restructuring etc, could revive these companies, but it looked a little too late.”

Merger, Not Shutdown

“I don’t think shutting down is an option. Merging and amalgamation is always a good option. That good option will have a good time for it to be exercised. You can’t merge a weak bank with another weak bank and have a mega weak bank. You have to strengthen the banks first. You could merge a weak bank with a strong bank and therefore come out with a reasonably sized bank or you could merge three banks into one. India doesn’t need 30 public sector banks. Now you have 31 or so…”

Swachh Mission

“In this country, if there has been a social reform movement in the past 70 years, then that is Modiji’s Swachh Bharat campaign. In 3.5 years, we have reached 76% (sanitation level) from 36%. We will also build 2 crore toilets this year. This not only protects the dignity of women, but also works towards abolishing the caste system. Today, there are modern toilets in each household of our villages. This helps in infusing a sense of self-respect and improving the quality of life of our villagers. We are giving stoves to 8 crore women, house, electricity, stove, toilet and roads.”moneycontrol