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Govt fields senior ministers to highlight achievements, defend demonetization

With the Congress chalking out a national agitation against the demonetization from next week, the government here on Thursday went all out to defend its note ban move, rolling out figures to prove that its drive to transition to a cashless economy had takers. The government fielded three senior ministers — Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu and Ministry of Information Technology Ravi Shakar Prasad — to put forth an optimistic picture and highlight its achievements. Countering the opposition, the ruling BJP will also launch a massive political campaign to make people aware about digital economy.

Jaitley said clear results from the notes ban were now coming in, tax collections were up, so was the life insurance business, petroleum consumption, tourism and investments in mutual funds. The minister countered naysayers who predicted that demonetization would have a severely adverse effect on the economy. “What was being predicted by the critics has to have a rationale with the revenue collections. Assessments can be unreal but revenue is real,” Jaitley said, adding that “in all the categories (of indirect tax) till November 30, there has been a significant increase in tax collection.” Till December 19, the income tax collection had gone up by 14.4%, he said.

Giving a breakdown of central indirect tax collection, he said that the excise duty collection went up by 43.5%, service tax by 25.7% and customs duties by 5.6%. Even on a month-on-month basis, the tax collection this November was higher, he said.

Prasad said, “Now the country is functioning at such a fast pace, but if the Congress party can’t see this, then it’s their loss.” He accused the main opposition party of being “the biggest patron of the corrupt and corruption”.

Similarly, at a separate press conference, Naidu said that the note withdrawal was an effective Anti–Scam Vaccine to prevent scams taking place through corruption and black money generation. Attacking the Opposition, Naidu said that those rattled by the prospect of the government going after those who made illegitimate deposits in banks and bought benami properties were making such baseless allegations. “It is a cheap tactic to dilute the public perception about the potential benefits of note withdrawal. Government will not be retracted by such diversionary tactics,” he said.

He further said that note withdrawal is a part of the grand anti-corruption strategy launched by the government in pursuit of the mandate give by the people in 2014 general elections but that some vested interested were questioning the initiatives against black money and corruption.

Highlighting his government’s achievements, Naidu said his scandal-free governance, effective inflation management, increased Foreign Domestic Investments, enhanced pace of infrastructure creation, stepped up economic growth rate despite adversities, financial inclusion, transparent resource allocation, increased accountability and transparency in governance, positive macroeconomic parameters were among the achievements of the government in the past few years.

Giving details about the tourism sector, he said that there had been notable growth in the comparative figures of Foreign Tourists Arrival (FTA) and Foreign Exchange Earnings (FEEs) and online sale of e–tickets after demonetization. The Minister said that earnings from cashless ticketing in Railways has increased by 30% and the number of people booking reserved tickets online using credit and debit cards or online transactions was at 58% in November, but had now reached over 75%.

He also said that more than 26 crore accounts were opened under the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana as a step towards financial inclusion. The Make in India initiative ensured enhanced the partnership between the government and the industry, he said, and India’s ease of business ranking had improved from 142 to 130 in the world.

Naidu said that about 3.09 crore farmers were covered under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana in 2015-16 and 3.66 crores this year. He stated that over 19 lakh youth were trained in useful skills under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana. Under the Stand Up India scheme, Rs 500 crore had been allocated in 2016-17 budget. Over 2.5 lakh entrepreneurs had benefited from the scheme so far, Naidu said. He also said that 1.22 crore LPG connections had been provided to BPL households under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. On the soil health card scheme for farmers, he said that over 2.5 crore health cards had been distributed so far.

Prasad too opined that the demonetization was a big success and said that digital payments had gone up by anywhere between 300% to 1500% following the move. At another press conference, Prasad, who is also the law minister, said that the government was taking every step to make digital payments foolproof. “We are reinforcing all cyber security walls,” Prasad said, adding that the IT ministry will come out with a detailed plan in this regard within a fortnight. Prasad further said that the government was also considering whether amendments were required in the Income-Tax Act to plug loopholes which may have provided tax evaders a legitimate way of legalising their black money.