Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharamn said that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought on a challenge unforeseen in India's history and it could not be compared with anything before.
As the country eagerly awaits the second tranche of stimulus measures from the government, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that it was willing to spend. However, it is yet to take a call on the timing and the quantum.
In an interview with Business Standard, Sitharaman said that she did not agree on the allegations that the relation between the Centre and states had deteriorated during the second term of Modi's government.
As for the controversial farm bills that sparked nation-wide protests, the finance minister said that the opposition should have brought up these discussions about the minimum support price (MSP) system ultimately going away and small farmers not getting a fair price from big corporate houses as a result of the system in parliament.
"Even at the time of passing the ordinances, none of these apprehensions came up. The first question that all of us, including several Opposition parties, kept putting in our manifestos was that the farmer is the only producer today who does not have a choice on whom to sell, where to sell, and at what prices," she said, adding that the government via the bill had created a system to empower farmers through which they could bargain for better prices and avoid middlemen.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Speaking on the impact of the lockdown, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharamn said that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought on a challenge unforeseen in India's history and it could not be compared with anything before.
"At the end of the second quarter there’s still only patchy revival happening and patchy revivals are very difficult to document in terms of measurability. So, we’ll have to see how it goes," said Sitharaman.
When asked about concerns that the government is not willing to spend during this period, the Finance Minister set the record straight by saying that there is a difference between willing to spend and when to spend.
"I am not sure that is right. Willing to spend is different from when to spend and how much to spend. The government is listening to so many people, listening to literally everyone who’s been contacting and giving us inputs. Of course, we will have to time what we want to do," she said.
As for the verdict given by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at Hague in favour of Vodafone, the Finance Minister said that the government has not yet decided on whether they want to challenge it.
As for the criticism the centre received from Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for using the compensation cess collections for other purposes, the Finance Minister said that the collected money goes to the consolidated fund of India and then comes to the compensation fund and then gets dispersed to states. Once it went there, it wasn’t transferred into the fund.
As a result, the centre experienced a couple of months of difficulty, she said. "After I came, one of the first things I did was to get that out of the consolidated fund and put it into the fund and then be able to distribute it to states. That is why I could clear last year’s compensation when it was just about Rs 95,000 crore and we had given out Rs 1.6 trillion to the states," she said.
On Amnesty International recently pulling the plug on its India operations, the finance minister clarified that they had been given permission under FCRA in 2000, but the permit was withdrawn in 2009 when Modi was not the PM."There is no witch-hunt here, this government has nothing against the civil society," she added.