M A I N   N E W S

A cocktail of sound economics, political wisdom
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New delhi, February 28
Like Sunday’s India-England cricket match at Bangalore, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s second Budget was today best described as a tie. Striking a fine balance between fiscal consolidation and inclusive growth, the veteran Congress leader mixed sound economics with political wisdom in his budgetary proposals to provide a “bit of something for everybody.”

While meeting the expectations of the corporate sector, the astute politician in Mukherjee did not lose sight of the UPA government’s core constituency of the poor and more vulnerable sections of society.

As a result, Mukherjee’s budgetary proposals today gave a big push to the agriculture sector, doubled the salaries of anganwadi workers and helpers, stepped up allocations for scholarships to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, took care to address the economic needs of handloom weavers, improved the terms of old pension scheme for BPL beneficiaries in the unorganised sector and provided a Rs 500 crore corpus for a special development fund for the empowerment of rural women. The high-profile Bharat Nirman package consisting of six flagship programme has been allocated Rs 58,000 crore, making it an increase of Rs 10,000 crore from the current year and has raised social sector spending by 17 per cent. .

Acutely aware of the upcoming Assembly elections, Mukherjee was generous in doling out special grants for universities and academic institutions in the poll-bound states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. While reaching out to the Congress party’s constituency, the Finance Minister also attempted to wean away the BJP’s support base with his proposal to free individual and sole proprietors with an annual turnover of Rs 60 lakh from the formalities of an audit. These assessees will also get a benefit of three percentage points in interest on delayed payment. This proposal will help what are better known as “mom and pop” shops whose owners are traditional BJP supporters.

“This budget reiterates the UPA government’s commitment to inclusive growth and development,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister PK Bansal remarked, adding that the Finance Minister had addressed the needs of vulnerable sections without sacrificing the growth trajectory.

Mukherjee got all-round applause for his decision to double the salaries of 22 lakh anganwadi workers and helpers to Rs 3,000 and Rs 1,500, respectively. Described as the backbone of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme and custodians of the health of rural children, it is hoped that the increase in the salaries of anganwadi workers will improve the quality of services and raise the nutritional status of children. “The ICDS will now attract more qualified persons now,”remarked Mohini Giri of Delhi-based NGO Guild of Service.

Continuing with the ruling dispensation’s focus on the agriculture sector, the Finance Minister has raised the target of credit flow to the farmers from Rs 3,75,000 crore this year to Rs 4,75,000 crore in 2011-12 while the banks have been asked to step up direct lending for agriculture and credit to small and marginal farmers. Farmers will further benefit from Mukherjee’s proposal reducing the rate of interest to 4 per cent from 7 per cent in the existing interest subvention scheme of providing short-term crop loans.

Similarly, Mukherjee did not fail to overlook the needs of the SCs and STs along with the handloom weavers. The Budget chalked up a first with specific allocations being earmarked for the Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan which will be reflected under separate heads in the budgets of relevant ministries and departments.

He also introduced a new pre-matric scholarship scheme for needy students belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes studying in ninth and tenth classes which should benefit about 40 lakh SC and ST students.

Recognising that handloom weavers have been facing economic stress, the Finance Minister provided for a whopping Rs 3,000 crore to NABARD for handloom weaver cooperatives. This initiative is expected to benefit 15,000 cooperative societies and about three lakh handloom weavers.





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