Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has apologised for delivering the longest-ever budget speech in parliament earlier this month, but said it was "inevitable" because every aspect of the economy warranted a careful response.
"Sorry. I agree that all of you were put to inconvenience. I don't know if you thought (why) this lady was talking for about two and a half hours, but I had things to spell out and we have a duty to implement and we will do it," news agency PTI quoted her as saying at a press conference in Chennai on Saturday.
The Finance Minister, however, went on to say that it could not have turned out any other way. "It was needed. Definitely it was needed. I would have completed reading out the remaining portion after drinking water," she asserted.
Nirmala Sitharaman's budget speech on February 1, which ran for a record 160 minutes, was peppered with quotes by Tamil poets, references to the Saraswati-Sindhu civilisation and even a Kashmiri verse. However, the address drove her to the point of exhaustion, and she was forced to cut it short with two pages to spare. As she started looking uneasy, party colleagues approached her with water and the Speaker was told to consider the rest of the speech as laid in the House.
After the proceedings were adjourned, Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked up to the Finance Minister and greeted her. She had just beaten her own record for the longest speech delivered last July, which had gone on for about 137 minutes.
The Finance Minister claimed that the long speech was necessary to elaborate on pre-budget consultations with stakeholders and the efforts taken to fulfil the expectations of every sector. "I did not speak to create any record, but every aspect of the economy warranted a careful response. This made the speech lengthy," she said.
Her feat, however, was not appreciated by those in the opposition. "Our youth want jobs. Instead, they got the longest budget speech in parliamentary history that said absolutely nothing of consequence. The Prime Minister and Finance Minister both looked like they have absolutely no clue what to do next," said former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
When reporters approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his reaction to the budget, they did not get the expected critique. "It was such a long budget. I was unable to absorb it," was all he said.