Prime Minister Narendra Modi today promised to establish a traders welfare board upon "coming back to power on May 23", the date when votes for the Lok Sabha elections will be counted. He said this at a traders' convention in the national capital, where he announced a series of welfare measures for small shopkeepers such as Rs 50-lakh loan without collateral, credit card facilities and a pension scheme.
"This board will act as a crucial link between traders and the government. Through the Goods and Services Tax (GST), we will also provide a Rs 10-lakh disaster insurance scheme to registered merchants," PM Modi said.
The Prime Minister went on to claim that while his government stood by traders through thick and thin, the opposition Congress "abused businessmen" by calling them thieves. "Although traders have been the backbone of the Indian economy in the past, they never received the respect they deserve," news agency PTI quoted him as saying. "But my government has tried to make your lives as well as livelihoods easy in the last five years."
The interaction with businessmen comes at a time when the opposition, led by Congress president Rahul Gandhi, has alleged that central initiatives such as GST and demonetisation have brought the trading community to its knees. The centre, however, has rejected all such claims.
Listing out his government's achievements, PM Modi said that his government has ended 1,500 archaic laws at the rate of one per day in the last five years to make doing business easier in the country. "Processes have been simplified, inspector raj has been largely checked and personal interference in income tax assessment has been removed," PM Modi said. "I consider you (traders) as the biggest stakeholder in our economy, but opposition parties remember you only on special occasions."
"I don't say that there were no mistakes (in implementing GST), but we have quickly addressed any anomalies based on suggestions from traders," the news agency quoted the Prime Minister as saying.
PM Modi said that while India has jumped 65 places on the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business" ranking to settle into the 77th position, his aim is to break into the top 50 in the next five years.