Economic package soon, says FM

Task force still not constituted, but FM speaks of multilayered sub-groups holding consultation

An economic package to deal with COVID-19 situation will be announced soon, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman promised on Tuesday afternoon, adding that the government and regulators are constantly monitoring the state of the economy, markets and rupee depreciation.

However, she still offered little clarity on the composition of an economic task force announced by the PM last week, and explained the delay in announcing an economic package by saying extensive consultations were needed, and till yesterday, Parliament was in session and the Finance Bill had to be cleared.

“Work is going on and we are very close to coming out with an economic package, which will be announced sooner rather than later,” she said, adding that the Centre, the Reserve Bank and the regulators have been jointly monitoring the volatility in the stock markets thrice daily. “Every attention is being given to the economy. The Prime Minister himself is closely monitoring the situation. A multi-layered composition of the task force is already working.”

As The Hindu had reported on Tuesday morning, the economic task force announced in the PM’s address to the nation on March 19 has still not been constituted, with the Finance Ministry saying the PM’s Office or the Cabinet Secretariat would be responsible for issuing an order to create it. On Tuesday evening, after the FM’s press conference, a Finance Ministry spokesperson once again confirmed to The Hindu that no order has yet been issued to set up the task force.

Ms. Sitharaman was more ambiguous about the status of the task force, saying that sub-groups of MPs, academics and industry leaders were already generating ideas for the task force, but refused to elaborate on its composition or specific mandate. “The Finance Ministry is working intensively on all these suggestions which are coming in from the various sub groups within the multi-layered task force that exists,” she said. “So the work of the task force which is multi-layered is already almost nearing a conclusion. So the task force and the task force based report and the action following the task force’s report are almost at its peak and that is why I have said we will announce the economic package sooner rather than later.”

She did not respond to specific queries on how the economic package would provide relief for millions of informal sector and daily wage workers who have been hit the hardest by the shutdown.

Ms. Sitharaman attributed the delay in announcing an economic package to the need for extensive consultations and to first pass the Finance Bill. “I appreciate that you would have liked the package to be announced last week. But most things which are as big as an economic package for this kind of unusual situation requires a lot of consultation to get it right,” she told journalists.

‘No intention to delay’

“We had no intention to delay, we don’t want to delay, but then but let us be realistic. Till yesterday, the Parliament was in session and the Finance Bill had to be cleared,” she said adding that she would have been happy to announce the package in the House if it was ready and the Finance Bill had been passed. “And once the Finance Bill got cleared, it was important for the MPs to recognise there is a lockdown in this country, so everyone had to go where they had to go and serve and be of use for their own constituents. So the Parliament adjourned sine die.”

In the final hours of the Lok Sabha session on Monday, a number of opposition MPs had been pressing the Finance Minister to make a statement on the COVID-19 situation and the government’s package before the Finance Bill was passed.

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