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HomeBusinessManmohan Singh missed the reforms bus as PM: FM Nirmala Sitharaman

Manmohan Singh missed the reforms bus as PM: FM Nirmala Sitharaman

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaks in the Rajya Sabha during the Budget session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Febuary 10, 2024.
| Photo Credit: PTI

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) squandered the opportunity to implement the unfinished reforms agenda from 1991 during its decade in office, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in the Rajya Sabha on Saturday, accusing the Manmohan Singh government of “thorough mismanagement” after the global financial crisis.

Citing a Tamil proverb “Mullu Mel Potta Thuni Mathiri” (Like a cloth placed on thorns) in response to a discussion on the White Paper on the Economy, Ms. Sitharaman said the Narendra Modi government had to carefully extricate India’s economy out of the thorns the UPA had tangled it in, without ripping its fabric.

“The economy was like a piece of cloth on that thorny bush, the thorns were all those malpractices that had torn into the economy. The whole world was using the phrase Fragile Five for all of us. What was the level of fragility? From the bottom, you were within the first five,” she said.

“After all, you [UPA] inherited a very good economy from the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. And maybe in your first five years, you tried benefiting the people with that good economy. But subsequently, and unfortunately, after the global financial crisis, it was thorough mismanagement,” the Minister said.

Stressing that the White Paper was being brought out now “after 10 years of toiling to bring the economy back on track”, Ms. Sitharaman said it would serve as a record for posterity, when the intent was not good and transparency was not there in the economy. “We need to have clean and accountable governance, not governance through extra-constitutional bodies,” she remarked.

She reminded the House that the first Cabinet decisions under Mr. Modi were the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to remove black money and the Expenditure Reforms Commission under Bimal Jalan “so that profligate expenditure of the earlier government could be rationalised”.

Referring to former PM Singh, Ms. Sitharaman said that the “promised reforms of 1991 were not complete and “when there was an opportunity again between 2004 and 2014, no reforms” were undertaken.

“It is one thing to continuously tell us what have you done… What have you done on the two-track approach, which is required for the train to go forward, one to remove the malpractices’ impact on the economy and to not only carry forward those pending reforms, which have been waiting from 1991, but also even further to take the economy forward. So, that is the track which we laid for ourselves,” she said.

Dismissing Congress MP K.C. Venugopal’s charge that the demonetisation of high-value currency notes in late 2016 had wiped out India’s Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), the Minister said as many as 3.16 crore MSMEs were registered on the Udyam platform as of December 4, 2023, and urged the Opposition to do “some more homework”.

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