New Delhi: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday defended the budgetary proposals and allocations made in the Union Budget 2018 and said he had tried to address the genuine concerns of all segments of the society, especially the salaried class and the poor. In an exclusive interview to Zee Media, Jaitley spoke about a host of issues ranging from the ''ease of living'', benefits to the salaried class, housing for all, boost to the rural sector, infrastructure, job creation and announcement of several welfare schemes like the National Health Protection Scheme, which he billed as the world's largest government-funded healthcare programme.
''I have given several benefits to salaried class in the past three years. I tried to give relief to salaried class with my budget. I have always taken care of the salaried class in all my budgets, standard deduction worth Rs 8,000 crore has been given to the salaried class,'' Jaitley said. ''I have given benefits to the tune of Rs 12,000 crore to the middle class,'' he said and added that ''this is in the interest of the economy too.''
He also categorically rejected suggestions that the budget has hugely disappointed the middle class, especially the salaried class. ''We have introduced many structural reforms. I believe gains from these structural reforms will consolidate in coming two years. It was a challenging budget in terms of meeting fiscal challenges. Yet, we managed to maintain a balance between generating jobs and keeping the economy strong,'' he said.
''The first right on government's treasury is that of the poor. All I can say is that people have accepted the budget,'' the Finance Minister said.
While acknowledging that narrowing the tax slab is a big challenge, he said, ''Salaried class is honest in paying their taxes. So, I thought of giving Rs 12,000 crore relief to middle class in my budget.'' He also pointed out that the Union Budget 2018 also gave a huge relief to senior citizens. "The budget gave huge relief to the tune of Rs 4,000 crore to the senior citizens,'' the Finance Minister said.
During the interview, Jaitley stressed that the duty structure needs to be expanded to help the business community. Referring to the government's allocation of Rs 14.34 trillion for rural infrastructure, he said, ''Price fixation of Minimum Support Price (MSP) in future will be based on need and principles.''
''If you connect a village through road, give electricity to several households, provide toilets inside the houses under the ''Swachh Bharat'', it is all a panoramic view on the development of rural sector. Then comes the role of schemes like MNREGA to provide employment,'' Jaitley said. The Finance Minister expressed hope that ''slowly and gradually, this will improve the lifestyle of people living in rural areas."
He also rejected fears that disappointing announcements in the budget like on the long-term capital gains (LTCG) tax and a higher-than-expected fiscal deficit target for 2018-19 have dampened the risk-taking appetite of investors.
To a question referring to suggestions of conducting simultaneous polls in the country, he said, ''I don't see that happening very soon.''
Jaitley had on Thursday presented what was the last full budget of the Narendra Modi government. The budget primarily focussed on agriculture and rural sectors and came up with 'world's largest' health insurance scheme for 50 crore Indians.
The budget projected the economic growth above 8 percent. Prime Minister Narendra Modi described it as a vehicle to build a 'new India'.
The budget is "farmer friendly, common citizen friendly, business environment-friendly" and will add to "ease of living and ease of doing business," he said in a televised address.