M A I N   N E W S

Agriculture to get priority, assures FM
T. R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, MAY 28
Underlining the Congress-led UPA government’s resolve to go ahead with the reforms process, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram affirmed today that the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) had buttressed his resolve to accord highest priority to agriculture and infrastructure development and augmenting rural credit.

“The CMP reaffirms every reform initiative and is as bold a declaration as can be made by any government,” he observed at a press conference here.

Mr Chidambaram emphasised that the country could easily absorb FDI inflow of $ 10-15 billion annually in spheres like infrastructure, high-technology and exports. The government would also take measures to prevent the misuse of double taxation avoidance treaties.

He was quite optimistic that given a good monsoon, India could achieve a growth of over 8 per cent. Defending the cess on taxes, he contended “I don't think anyone can question the purpose of cess specially earmarked for the education and health sectors.”

The Finance Minister said the government was working on raising massive resources for investing in development of agriculture, infrastructure and manufacturing. “I think we can find resources that are critically required and all irrigation projects will be completed in the next 3-4 years.”

He noted that every effort would also be made to keep inflation at a low level as that was the premise of every development strategy.

Mr Chidambaram sought to allay fears of a further cut in interest rates. He alluded to a balance being struck to take care of savers and investors.

He was categoric that PSUs like the Navratnas or generally profit making companies would not be privatised. At the same time they must have the potential to make profits on a sustained basis in a competitive and open economy.

Rejecting suggestions that private investment in the power sector was linked with the unbundling of state electricity boards, the Finance Minister was categorical that private players could invest in both power generation and its distribution.

He acknowledged that there was buoyancy in tax collections and the administration had become more efficient than it was 13 years ago.

Mr Chidambaram said he would be visiting Mumbai next week for a meeting with foreign investors and captains of industry to remove all doubts about the CMP or that the government would go slow on the reforms process.

He said profit-making PSUs, including banks, LIC and GIC would be granted managerial autonomy and allowed to raise capital from the market. While profitable PSUs would be allowed to raise capital, the government would ensure that such public offerings provide a ‘new avenue for retail investors.’

On the Disinvestment department being merged with the finance ministry, Mr Chidambaram said, “I will implement the policies of the CMP that any privatisation will be considered on a transparent and consultative basis.” 

Budget on July 2 or 5

The Union Budget for financial year 2004-05 is likely to be presented in the Lok Sabha on July 2 or 5, Mr Chidambaram said today.

The dates of the Budget session would be finalised after consultation with the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry, he informed here.

Mr Chidambaram has decided to conduct pre-budget meetings with industrialists, agriculturists, economists, financial players, and consumer forums.

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