The second wave of COVID-19 will not affect the government’s big-ticket reforms, including the disinvestment plans outlined in the Union Budget, Nirmala Sitharaman said on Thursday.
The finance minister, however, said that the focus right now is on saving lives.
At a series of online debates organised by The Indian Express and the Financial Times, Sitharaman said there was no need for a complete lockdown to deal with the second wave as the situation today is different. “Micro-containment zones would be the way forward [now].
“Even that said, there are numbers and the surge in certain pockets that is so significant — as in Delhi — we have gone in for a week-long lockdown, which affects the movement of goods. Also, industry suffers because the movement of raw materials gets affected.
“I think it’s a bit too early for me to think, and this is what I have also got as an impression from industry, that this is going to affect us beyond this week or further. We will have to wait and watch a bit and then we will take a call. But at the moment activity is all happening, industry is still on it recovery mode. And therefore I will not rush to think that this will hurt us if we are able to coordinate better, as much as people would have us believe.”
Regarding the shortage of oxygen in the country, Sitharaman said the government was importing it. She also said India had the testing capacity and vaccines to tackle the second wave. “The pandemic is something which all state governments are addressing, however, perfectly or not so perfectly, all of us are helping each other. At this stage, I think our focus is to address the immediate requirements for saving lives and also making sure that vaccination is ramped up,” she said.
The FM was the keynote speaker at Thursday’s discussion on ‘India’s Quest for Economic Power’.
“…Our economy is kept open even today. There are part lockdowns, but hopefully they will be [lifted] once the [infection] chain is broken. In the context of lockdown not really having been imposed, however, lives being in difficulty because of the pandemic, I would focus on these measures such as supply of medicines and oxygen, and then see how best the economy will have to be addressed,” Sitharaman said.
The minister said the Budget announcements were on track. “This morning, when I met with secretaries, the mood and also the way in which we have planned out for disinvestment, setting up a DFI [Development Finance Institution], looking at the Asset Reconstruction Company – everything is on course. In fact, the message from secretaries was that we are going as it was before and therefore we don’t suspect that that will be affected. In fact, even if there were one or two centres where lockdowns were to happen, they may not affect our disinvestment programme, or the plan to set up DFI or any other institutional reforms that we have announced,” she said.
The government has set a disinvestment target of ₹1.75 lakh crore for the current year.