It’s official. The much-touted Rs 20-Lakh-crore special pandemic package, announced in May 2020 to revive the Covid-hit economy, was apparently a dud, according to reply under RTI released here on Wednesday.
Hoping to unravel the exact benefits of the historic financial package after its validity ended in March 2021, a Pune businessman Prafful Sarda filed a query under RTI, but after over four months, got a shocking reply from the Centre.
The Centre has said that in view of the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, “additional borrowing limit of up to 2 per cent GSDP was allowed to the state” under the ‘Atmanirbhar Package’ for the year 2020-2021.
Accordingly, under this head, the Centre permitted states to make ‘additional borrowings amounting to Rs 319,939-crore during the fiscal 2020-2021, the RTI response said.
Of this (Rs 319,939-crore), the states which availed the highest ‘additional borrowings’ are: Maharashtra (Rs 30,788-crore), Uttar Pradesh (Rs 29,108-crore), Tamil Nadu (Rs 28,880-crore), Karnataka (Rs 27,955-crore), Gujarat (Rs 26,112-crore), and Rajasthan (Rs 21,301-crore) in the upper bracket.
State like Andhra Pradesh (Rs 19,192-crore), Kerala (Rs 18,087-crore), Madhya Pradesh (Rs 18,034-crore), Telangana (Rs 17,558-crore), West Bengal (Rs 13,574-crore), Haryana (Rs 12,878-crore), and Punjab (Rs 10,917-crore) – are in the middle bracket.
Rest include: Odisha (Rs 9,716-crore), Bihar (Rs 7,754-crore), Uttarakhand (Rs 5,617-crore), Assam (Rs 5,418-crore), Chhattisgarh (Rs 5,374-crore), Jharkhand (Rs 3,530-crore), Himachal Pradesh (Rs 2,892-crore), Goa (Rs 1,738-crore), Tripura (Rs 1,127-crore) fall in the lower bracket.
Incidentally, all the smaller states of north-east dared to avail ‘additional borrowings’ of less than Rs 1-K-crore: Meghalaya (Rs 542-crore), Manipur (Rs 497-crore), Arunachal Pradesh (Rs 399-crore), Sikkim (Rs 373-crore), Nagaland (Rs 314-crore), Mizoram (Rs 264-crore) totaling to just Rs 2,389-crore.
Sarda pointed out that this innocuously-worded ‘additional borrowings’ are repayable sometime in the future, maybe with interest and this comes to Rs 24 per head loan on each Indian, against the promised Rs 150 per Indian under the total (Rs 20-LCr.) package.
“If that’s so, then what about the so-called ‘stimulus package’ that was announced with much fanfare by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman? When the intention was to allow only ‘additional borrowings’, states could have anyways done it without the green signal from Centre ” Sarda said.
Moreover, he argued that out of the total Rs 20-LCr, package, even under the garb of ‘additional borrowings’, barely 15 per cent has actually been given so what is the fate of the remainder of the ‘Atmanirbhar Package’, lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly.
Referring to past instances, Sarda wondered whether “the Finance Ministry will now reveal some new data” to overturn its own RTI reply (Aug 10, 2021), issued by an authority, Sumit Agrawal, the CPIO and Assistant Director, Public Finance State Division.
Interestingly, the Centre had earlier said that under the same package, an Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme was introduced till October 31, 2020, or till the Rs 3-LCr sanctioned under it was exhausted, but even under that by December 2020, the government disbursed only Rs 1.20-LCr (@ 40 per cent) as ‘loans’ to various states. (IANS Dec 11, 2020).
“The major question is where is the remaining amount of the Rs 17-LCr, over a year after it was announced and nearly six months after the grandiose scheme ended. Was this another mega-jumla (fraud) on the Indians,” Sarda asked pointedly.
Meanwhile, in the jugglery of figures, he added that the country continues to reel under the pandemic after-effects, crores of people and lakhs of businesses still suffer, but the Centre has given hardly anything to normalize the situation.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)