During debate, queries raised about Maharashtra govt data on agriculture, job growth, economy

In a fresh offensive, the Opposition in Maharashtra on Monday accused the Fadnavis-led government of inflating the state’s GDP (gross domestic product) growth.

Raising questions over the accuracy of the GDP numbers, former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan accused the government of “tweaking” economic data in a “desperate bid” to paint a rosy picture of the state’s economy. Later, former finance minister Jayant Patil also accused the Devendra Fadnavis of “manipulating” economic data.

Contending that Maharashtra, India’s most industrialised state, saw growth of 7.5 per cent in 2018-19, the state government had on June 18 spelt out a Rs 4.05 lakh crore expenditure plan while presenting the state’s full budget for 2019-20.

On Monday, lawmakers in the Assembly began to debate items in the budget. Initiating the discussion, Chavan alleged that the state’s gross state domestic product (GSDP) was likely 2-2.5 per cent lower than the 7.5 per cent estimate of the state’s Directorate of Economics and Statistics in the Economic Survey Report (ESR) 2018-19.

“The ESR presented last year (for 2017-18) had projected a negative growth rate of -8.3 per cent in the agriculture sector. But in this year’s ESR, the government has inexplicably claimed that it had achieved an agriculture growth rate of +3.1 per cent in 2017-18. This would mean an 11 per cent growth over the estimated numbers (in just a month). How is this possible? This is nothing but jugglery of numbers,” said Chavan.

The former CM also questioned the viability of the state government’s stated goal of becoming a trillion-dollar (Rs 70 lakh crore) economy by 2025.

“We are presently a Rs 27 lakh crore economy and the state has grown at an average 7.5 per cent over the last five years. At the current rate, it will take another 13 years to achieve the target. The state’s economy would have to consistently grow at 16.5 per cent to reach the milestone by 2025. No state or country has achieved such a high growth rate. While it is good to set high benchmarks, the targets must be realistic. They should not be mere announcements,” said Chavan.

Later, Patil, too, accused the government of using the budget to make “a slew of unrealistic” announcements to “mislead” citizens ahead of the Assembly election.

Chavan also referred to a research paper by former chief economic advisor of India, Arvind Subramaniam, which reportedly contended that India’s real GDP growth was overestimated by 2.5 per cent.

“Maharashtra is the backbone of India’s economy,” said Chavan, also citing Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikantha Das’s latest remark that the Indian economy has lost traction and needed a decisive monetary policy to promote growth.

“The state claims rabi production is down by 63 per cent and kharif production has dropped by 12 per cent this year. But it still has projected a 0.4 per cent growth in agriculture (and allied sector) for 2019-20. The fact is that the agriculture economy is in the doldrums.”

He further accused the government of “concealing” statistics regarding job generation, while accusing the state of falling behind in the Centre’s Ease of Doing Business index. Chavan also claimed that annual foreign direct investment in the state was on a downward spiral.

Patil later asked the government to clarify how many jobs had been generated in the government and private sectors and why the government failed to rein in fuel prices and inflation. He also targeted the government over rising revenue deficit and public debt.

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