Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday responded to the Opposition’s comments castigating her handling of the Indian economy, saying the Narendra Modi government was open to criticism, The Hindu reported.

Earlier in the day, Opposition leaders in the Lok Sabha asked the Centre to take effective measures to revive the economy instead of “clutching at straws” to deal with the slowdown. Figures released last week showed that Gross Domestic Product growth slumped to a six-year low in October even as industrial output contracted.

“We are a proactive government,” Sitharaman told members of the Lower House. “I have met many people, many have said I am the worst finance minister, even before I completed six months of work, I hear them out. I am willing to hear more.”

The finance minister also referred to the comments that industrialist Rahul Bajaj made at an event in Mumbai on Saturday, and said Home Minister Amit Shah had responded to him with a “clear attitude”. Sitharaman and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal were also present at the event. Bajaj told the ministers that people were afraid of criticising the BJP government. “During UPA-II [second term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance], we could abuse anyone,” Bajaj said. “You are doing good work, but if we want to openly criticise you, [but] there is no confidence you will appreciate that. I may be wrong but everyone feels that.”

During a discussion on Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, in the Lower House, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury suggested that the BJP should consult former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about tackling the problem in the economy. Chowdhury said Singh’s warning that demonetisation would cause Gross Domestic Product to decline 2% had been correct. The Congress leader said the Narendra Modi government’s was suspicious of everyone advising the government about the slowdown. Taking a dig at the finance minister, Chowdhury said she should be named “Nirbala [powerless]”.

Even as her party colleagues demanded an apology from the Congress leader, Nirmala Sitharaman said every woman in the BJP was “sabala [strong]”, India Today reported.

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra also lashed out at the government, saying demonetisation and flawed implementation of the Goods and Service Tax had dealt a blow to the economy. Reduction in corporate tax would only help those who make profits, she told fellow parliamentarians. “It does not do anything to revive a very large part of this economy which is struggling,” Moitra added. “Instead it is clutching at straws.”

Meanwhile, Jharkhand BJP MP Nishikant Dubey claimed the concept of Gross Domestic Product was first used in 1934, and would lose its importance with time. “Measures of sustainable development and happiness are more important than GDP,” he said.

Following the deliberations, the Lok Sabha passed the taxation bill. It is likely to benefit domestic companies, which will be taxed less if certain deductions are not claimed. It also amends certain provisions regarding levy of surcharge on capital gains. In September, base corporate tax for existing firms were reduced from 30%, to 22% and from 25% to 15% for new manufacturing companies incorporated after October 1, and beginning operations before March 31, 2023.

Rajya Sabha clears bill banning e-cigarettes

Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha approved the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Bill, 2019, in a voice vote. The Lok Sabha had passed the draft legislation on November 27. The law prohibits the production, trade, storage, and advertisement of electronic cigarettes. The Centre had issued an ordinance banning the use of e-cigarettes on September 18.

Most of the members of the Upper House supported the legislation, with some saying that the use of raw tobacco and regular cigarettes should also be considered as they are more harmful. Congress leader Ripun Bora noted that 10 people die every second in India because of an illness associated with tobacco. “In India, 145 million people, which is 10.7% of India’s population, smoke beedi, cigarettes and use chewing tobacco and death rate is 1.2 million every year, which is an alarming situation,” the Congress leader added.

Samajwadi Party MP Ravi Prakash Verma called for a holistic approach, pointing out that the government generates revenue of almost Rs 30,000 crore from the sale of cigarettes.

“It is good that the government is trying to nip it in the bud,” said Janata Dal (United) leader Ram Chandra Prasad Singh. “It is the right time to ban. But one issue it should keep in mind, that is, import of these products through online and grey market.”

Meanwhile, during a discussion on the murder and alleged rape of a 27-year-old Hyderabad veterinarian, Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan suggested that people accused of rape should be lynched in public. Both Houses discussed women’s safety, and MPs across party lines demanded stringent action against people convicted of crimes.

Protests against Adhir Chowdhury’s remark

BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha protested against Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. “I can say that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah ji are themselves migrants,” Chowdhury had said on Sunday, criticising the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens . “Their homes are in Gujarat but they have come to Delhi. Whether they are legal or illegal migrants, it will be known later.”

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi accused the Congress of being “led by an infiltrator” – a veiled reference to Congress President Sonia Gandhi.