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New Delhi: The government on Wednesday assigned Piyush Goyal temporary additional charge of the finance and corporate affairs ministries in the absence of finance minister Arun Jaitley, who is in the US for a medical check-up. The development comes when preparations for the interim budget for 2019-20 are in full swing.
“President Ram Nath Kovind, as advised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has directed that during the period of indisposition of Arun Jaitley, the portfolios of finance and corporate affairs held by him, be temporarily assigned to Piyush Goyal, in addition to his existing portfolios," a statement from the President’s office said.
This is the second time railway and coal minister Goyal has taken temporary charge of the finance portfolio. Last year too, he was given charge of finance while Jaitley underwent kidney transplant at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi.
Jaitley was designated “as minister without portfolio during the period of his indisposition or till such time he is able to resume his work as minister of finance and minister of corporate affairs", Wednesday’s statement said.
There was no clarity on whether Jaitley would be back for presenting his sixth budget, scheduled for 1 February.
Jaitley, 66, has been at the forefront of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s attempts to deal with a series of recent economic challenges, including a sharp depreciation in the value of the rupee, a spike in oil prices and a liquidity crunch faced by small businesses. The interim budget comes amid high expectations of an election-year budget.
Though the budget will be interim, its provisions could go beyond mere approval of spending till a full budget is presented by the next government.
It also comes at a time when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is smarting from a series of setbacks in assembly polls. BJP’s loss of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to the opposition Congress in last month’s polls seems to suggest that re-election for the Modi-led NDA may not be the foregone conclusion it was once thought to be.
Following the election defeats, Jaitley last week hinted at a farm relief package for distressed farmers to be announced in the interim budget.
“Without getting into the specifics, because that would be disclosing the mind in which we are working, (I can say that) you cannot opt to wait on some of the challenges. Therefore, obviously, there will be a necessity to address them. It has happened in the past. So, we intend to work within the parameters of the conventions as they exist," Jaitley said at the CNBC-TV18 India Business Leader Awards through video conferencing from New York.
According to recent media reports, the Modi government is working on measures to provide income support and funding relief to small and marginal farmers, including the possibility of interest-free loans of up to ₹3 lakh.
India Ratings and Research last week said it expects India’s fiscal deficit to widen by 70 basis points in the fiscal 2019-20 if the government decides to roll out a relief package for small and marginal farmers. One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.
“The budget may try to bring some kind of a feel-good factor for sections like farmers, the middle class and small and medium enterprises, especially after the result of the recent assembly elections," said N.R. Bhanumurthy, a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.