New Delhi: Ahead of what will likely be the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s last Union Budget before the general elections, 38 leaders of the Congress party met finance minister P. Chidambaram and urged him to increase allocation for projects that would mean a better life for the aam aadmi (or the man on the street) and fast-track these.
On Wednesday, in a 150-minute meeting with the finance minister, the Congress leaders asked for cheaper home loans and an increase in the income-tax exemption limit, and said the common man should not bear the brunt of a fuel price hike.
The delegation said the minister should come up with schemes targeted at scheduled castes and tribes, other backward classes, minorities and women.
The leaders drew Chidambaram’s attention to several ongoing schemes that required better implementation. These included the prime minister’s programme for poverty alleviation, with 27 identified targets at the national level and 13 at the state level, and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. “We want our flagship schemes to be put on the implementation trajectory with emphasis on monitoring their performance on the ground,” M. Veerappa Moily, chairman of the party’s media cell, said.
The leaders also demanded waiver of loans to small and marginal farmers, schemes for addressing the debt of farmers, and a hike in the limit of farm credit available at 7% interest from Rs3 lakh. Farmers should also get weather insurance, in addition to crop insurance, Moily said.
Reacting to the suggestions, Debabrata Biswas, a Rajya Sabha member of the All India Forward Bloc, one of the four Left parties that lend outside support to the UPA government, said: “Debt reconciliation boards should be set up in every state. The interest liability of every debt-ridden farmer should be waived. Anything short of this is insufficient. And the proposal to increase the Rs3 lakh limit on loans given at 7% rate of interest will only help big farmers.”
The delegation, including a few Union ministers who were part of it in their capacity as Congress Working Committee members, pointed to rising prices and said the public distribution system should be redesigned to serve as a food security scheme. They also backed the Planning Commission’s suggestion to utilize foreign exchange reserves for developing rural infrastructure. “This is just a political reminder that the minister shouldn’t hurt the aam aadmi, the party’s constituency and the country. It’s nothing that the minister doesn’t already already know. But no party wants to be left behind, not least the ruling party which can take the credit for whatever the minister delivers,” said B.G. Verghese, an honorary visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank.