Congress Worsened Matters, Wants to Pass on Blame: Arun Jaitley in Rajya Sabha

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New Delhi:  Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who presents the union budget on Thursday, defended a recent hike in rail fares, stating firmly, "If you're using a service, you should pay for it."

In his reply to a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the first day of the Budget session of Parliament, he put the blame for rise in prices of essentials squarely on the previous Congress-led UPA government. (Budget Session of Parliament: Live Updates)

"Prices for some commodities rise because of lack of supply, it is not possible to fill this gap in five weeks," Mr Jaitley said, adding, "What surprises me is that the party which brought the economy to this state wants to put the blame on someone else today." (Also Read: Why Rahul Gandhi Caught Attention in Parliament Today)

The Congress, BSP and CPI-M staged a walkout saying they were dissatisfied with his reply. Trinamool Congress MPs had walked out during his speech. A united Opposition demanded to know where the "acche din" or "good days" that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised were, putting the government on the mat over the rise in prices of staples like onion and potato and a recent hike in rail fares and cost of diesel. (Cancel Train Fare Hike, Government Urged by Its Own MPs)

On the eve of the Railway Budget, the minister explained the recent hike in rail fares that the new government effected to much anger and protests. He furnished documents to show that the Congress government had in February this year given a go-ahead for such a hike from May, and then held back the decision for the new government to take. (Also Read: Congress Should Get Leader of the Opposition Post: Sonia Gandhi)  

"By the interim budget in February this year, the loss to the Railways on account of subsidised passenger fares was Rs 30,000 crore...If you are using a service, you should pay for it," said Mr Jaitley, who is also leader of the Rajya Sabha. (Read: No Price Rise Debate Without Voting, Says Opposition)

The Railway Minister, he said, had a 'Hobson's choice' as railways' financial health was extremely bad.

"Does he (Railway Minister) follow the weak-kneed policies of his predecessor that unpopular decisions can't be taken even if they are in national interest or does he then take this decision and place this fact before the country that to run the railways this decision was necessary," he said.

Earlier today, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu had hinted at tough measures when he said,  "We'll take bold steps if necessary."

Mr Jaitley assured the House that the 41-day-old government had contained prices and was committed to keeping them in check.

"There is sufficient supply of onion and potato; there is no need for panic," he said, in a speech frequently interrupted by Opposition members.


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