Exclusive | Is Helping the Elderly Go on Pilgrimage a Sin and Writing Off Loans a Virtue, Asks Manish Sisodia

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Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on Saturday doubled down on the fierce tussle with the BJP on freebies, questioning why subsidised or free resources should not be extended to the common man when loan write-offs and tax waivers “worth crores” were being extended to corporates.

In an exclusive interview to News18, Sisodia also hit out at the central government, accusing it of mismanaging the economy, and questioned the need to impose GST on common use items like milk, curd and rice.

Edited excerpts:

Nirmala Sitharaman has alleged that you are giving a “perverse twist” to the freebies debate. The central government is not saying that there should be no free food or free education…

What is the central government saying? The central government is saying that there is no money for schools because it is not there in the budget. There is no money for opening government schools or government hospitals, no money for medicines in the hospitals, no money for pensions for the elderly, no money for welfare schemes for children.

What do they have money for? To write off loans worth Rs 10 lakh crore for Modi ji‘s friends, to write off taxes worth Rs 5 lakh crore. The newspapers are full of stories, look at the Gujarat papers. They have a government over there for 23 years. People are carrying their kids on their shoulders to school, wading through water. This is because the government failed to open enough schools.

Are we making the debate “perverse”? You will not open schools or hospitals. You will impose taxes on milk, curd, wheat, rice. In Independent India, this is the first time that the country’s economic situation has plunged to such lows that the government, to run itself, has to impose taxes on curd and milk. And what will the government do with that? They will do exactly what they have done now. Write off loans worth Rs 10 lakh crore and taxes worth Rs 5 lakh crore for Modi ji‘s friends.

You have attended all meetings of the GST Council. Did you ever oppose the GST on milk, curd, rice etc.?

I have always underlined one point repeatedly in each and every meeting of the GST Council — lower the tax rate, more the compliance. The tax structure is complicated like never before. Why are they not doing it? Because they have the majority there.

And whether Manish Sisodia said this or that is not the main issue. The main issue is elsewhere. What is the reason that in 75 years of Independence something that never happened during the tenure of any Prime Minister is happening in the time of Modi ji? Taxes worth crores are being written away for Modi’s friends. Secondly, loans worth lakhs of crores have been written off. And you do not have the budget for building schools and hospitals? Why did you have to impose taxes on these in the first place?

The central government has argued that this is a ‘technical’ write off. Banks continue to have the right of recovery…

Banks have that right, but why does the bank not give such write-offs to farmers? The farmer who takes a loan of Rs 2,00,000 for his crop or livestock, you seize his house. If a person loses their life and family members are waiting outside the hospital for the dead body, then give it to them also if this write-off is so ‘technical’. Why do only Modi ji‘s friends have this right? Give it also to that person who sheds tears waiting outside the hospital, give the same ‘technical’ right to the person whose child’s name was cut off from the rolls because there was no money to pay the fees. Why are you giving all the rights to Modi’s friends? That too, of Rs 10 lakh crore.

The BJP has also said that your revenue-surplus budget despite freebies is because the Delhi government does not have to bear the burden of pensions of many employees.

Compared to the funds that the central government gives to different states, Delhi hardly gets anything. For the past 20 years, the central government has given Delhi just Rs 325 crore, while other states get funds to the tune of Rs 50,000 crore. Let them give us that money, we will also bear the pension burden. Importantly, the Comptroller and Auditor General, after auditing, has said that Delhi is the only government that is revenue-surplus.

But please tell me, how did the country’s financial situation become so precarious? Why was such a situation allowed to rise where you had to impose GST on milk, curd, rice? Why have you led the country to a precarious economic situation?

The issue is not that of the economic situation of Delhi. The issue is that of the economic situation of the country. Modi ji is saying that he will stop freebies across the entire country, but the freebies for his friends — writing off their loans and taxes — will continue. But the common man will not have the right to free education for his child.

Modi ji is not saying freebies will be stopped. He has criticised political parties who promise freebies. And this is done by every party, including the BJP, BSP, SP, RJD; everyone does it. He has criticised this practice, but he has not said that he will stop it.

Isn’t Modi ji saying that because of freebies, the country’s economic situation is becoming precarious? We are arguing that it is because of the freebies given to friends that the economic situation of the country is becoming precarious, not because of free schools for children of the common man.

All political parties promise freebies — pressure cookers, TVs, cycles, laptop, free electricity, free pilgrimage etc. However, why is it that the AAP picked up the issue, even went to the Supreme Court? Why has this issue become so important for the Aam Aadmi Party?

It is because the AAP is working in this direction. AAP has given a model in Delhi and now in Punjab. And there are such models across the country.

When governments invest in citizens, the country progresses. On the other hand, when governments write off loans worth Rs 10 ten lakh crore for its friends, the country is being weakened economically. We can see that the country is getting into a bad economic situation. That is why we are raising this issue.

The AAP has given many benefits to the citizens of Delhi. All agree on that count. My question is about free pilgrimage. Is that a necessity? Should that also be made free by the government? Can that be called a freebie?

Rs 10 lakh crore loans have been written off for Modi ji‘s friends. Is that a necessity? But enabling a poor person to go on pilgrimage is a sin? If an elderly person is being enabled to go on a pilgrimage, is that a sin? Modi ji writing off taxes worth lakhs is a virtue?

If we agree that it is not right, it is a question of bad assessment in giving loans? If you stop that, we can take all elderly citizens on pilgrimages.

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