Our first priority was to save lives, only approach available was the lockdown: Nirmala Sitharaman to WION

New DelhiWritten By: Palki SharmaUpdated: May 30, 2020, 12:47 AM IST
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The finance minister said that 'reopening is a clear risk', though she added that 'we have to go along and take a risk as we can't hold back people from functioning normally for too long.'

India's finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman while speaking exclusively to WION's Executive Editor Palki Sharma said that the coronavirus pandemic has triggered multiple challenges in India.

"Our first priority was to save lives, the only approach available was the lockdown," Sitharaman said adding, "the government is very clear - we will stand by our industry, entrepreneurs, and farmers."

"We need our economy to be supported and we will support it," India's finance minister asserted.

On the next course of action over the lockdown, Sitharaman stated that there are signs people want to return to work while acknowledging that the government faces difficulty in attending to the need of every citizen.

However, the finance minister said that "reopening is a clear risk", though she added that "we have to go along and take a risk as we can't hold back people from functioning normally for too long."

The finance minister said that the impact of the lockdown on employment was difficult to assess at this stage, although she added that some employers were getting back workers at 20-30 per cent strength.

The finance minister added that it was impossible to say anything on India's growth right now as an analysis can be made only when the lockdown is lifted.

"Impossible for me to make any guesses," the finance minister told WION's Palki Sharma.

Sitharaman had recently unveiled Rs 20 lakh crore economic relief package aimed at MSMEs, migrants and farmers. India's finance minister explained that "we need to make sure that the money goes to the right places".

"What we are spending right now, we need to see where it goes," the finance minister said. "Our macroeconomic fundamentals are strong, were are able to face the lockdown due to strong fundamentals," she said.

"Indian entrepreneurs will be able to come out to restart the economy."

"Even after the pandemic, the two countries that will be growth engines are India and China," the finance minister said.

"PM Modi is very clear - we stand with the industry," Sitharaman added.

On the government's aim to become a $5 trillion economy, the finance minister said, "our Budget estimates will have to be relooked, none of my assumptions will hold good."

"The extent the impact of this pandemic is still not clear, things have changed from the last Budget."

"We started seeing green shoots in Q4, the numbers from the last quarter gave a feeling that revival was happening," she said.

"We won't do an estimate now, it is my duty to prepare, we have to be ready to help and support."

"We are ready for the expected contraction and have the full support of the prime minister and we will make sure everyone gets required support."

Expanding on the steps taken towards fighting the virus and the rise of India's PPE and pharma industry, the finance minister said research labs of at least eight big vaccine producers are now engaged in the race to develop the vaccine.

"India will set the pace on vaccine development," the minister said.

"India will be the food basket of the world, we can be the supplier to the globe, Indian farmers need all the strength."

"We expect our agriculture sector to contribute to the world, we are giving a good hearing to the affected industries."

Delivering a message to global investors, the finance minister said India believes in the rule of law. PM Modi has laid emphasis on corruption free, policy-driven approach, she said.

"Policy is what we are working on - more friendly policy, earlier, Indians went out of the country for opportunities, if we create the right environment in India our youth can find interesting, challenging opportunities in the country."

"This should be a big draw for our investors, we have improved a lot in terms of keeping the youth in India with good challenging positions but we have a lot to do."

On the question of hostile takeovers, the minister told WION, "We will certainly do something to make sure that Indian industries don't get picked up at a throwaway price."

With the pandemic putting pressure on health care, the minister said, "We shall give more money for the health infrastructure, not just putting money in public health infrastructure, we are also giving our viability gap funding to private players."

"We want to strengthen health infrastructure, expanding capacities to train more doctors & nurses."

The minister said her own family has been very supportive throughout the difficult period.

"My family has been absolutely supportive, I was a bit worried about the elders in my house," she informed.

"I had to take a lot more precautions, my family has got adjusted as these are very difficult times."

"The entire country has braved this pandemic," the minister said.