Allies shower bouquets & brickbats
Congress levels leak charge
Sangh raps old choice
Small sum for big school dream
Opposition threatens cut motions
Farms of fortune come under tax plough

New Delhi, Feb. 29 
The budget has not pleased the BJP’s partners entirely.

A vocal Telugu Desam Party, the biggest ally, reacted with a shower of bouquets and brickbats while response from the others was muffled.

Yashwant Sinha came in for some terse remarks from Desam MPs Yerran Naidu and Ramachandra Reddy. “Surprisingly, the finance minister has not come out with anything concrete and substantial to enable states to further push the reforms,” they said in a statement. They criticised the fact that a substantial amount has gone into defence, though the plan outlay has gone up by 22 per cent.

The Desam leaders welcomed some features. “The budget has placed a welcome emphasis on promotion of IT and telecom sectors and rationalisation and simplification of direct and indirect taxes is welcome,” the statement said.

It expressed concern at the proposed hike of urea prices and hinted that after studying the impact, the party may approach the Prime Minister for a roll-back.

Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu described the Union budget as “positive in approach and moderately good”.

He, however, expressed concern over the increase in issue price of rice to 50 per cent of the economic cost as it will jeopardise his programme of supplying cheap rice to the poor in rural areas. “This measure will place significant burden on the states which have extensive public distribution system,” he said.

Commenting on the surcharge on IT sector which will generate additional revenue for the Centre, Naidu wanted a share for the states. “The well-intentioned statements for promoting investments in education, health and infrastructure have not reflected in concrete schemes,” he pointed out.

Naidu also expressed disappointment that the Centre had not provided adequate fiscal incentives and policy supports to reforming states. “States pursuing innovative schemes, financial discipline, power sector reforms and people’s empowerment programmes should be rewarded through a package of measures.”

The Janata Dal (United) and the DMK said the budget was “balanced”.

Trinamul Congress leader Sudip Bandhopadhyaya said the budget was “tolerable”. Saying the government should have ensured that urea prices are not hiked, he added that the budget had reflected Mamata Banerjee’s railway budget.

Dal(U) leader Devinder Prasad Yadav said his party was happy with the doubling of foodgrains supplied through PDS (Public Distribution System) to those below poverty line.

The Desam went back and forth in its praise and blame. It said while doubling of the foodgrain quota for below poverty line families is good, the impact of increasing the issue price to 50 per cent of economic cost will place a significant burden on states who have extensive PDS.

The budget, the Desam said, did not match the intentions of promoting private investments in education and infrastructure sectors. It also did not elaborate on how traditional sectors like manufacturing will be supported to sustain the present economic recovery.

On the positive side, the Desam said the finance minister has shown adequate concern about agriculture and rural development and social sectors.    

New Delhi, Feb. 29 
The Congress today alleged that the Union budget 2000-2001 had been leaked hours before it was presented in the Lok Sabha.

Making the charge as soon as finance minister Yashwant Sinha stood up to present the budget, Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said he had given a notice of breach of privilege against the minister.

Munshi, who was supported by some of his party colleagues, said it was a serious matter and wanted to know the Speaker’s reaction to his notice. The ruckus disrupted proceedings, delaying presentation of the budget for about ten minutes.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) member Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who supported the Congress allegation and showed no signs of taking his seat despite several requests, was warned by Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi.

Asserting that he had received the notice just ten minutes before the House re-assembled, Balayogi said: “Since it (the notice) is under my observation, it is not proper to raise the matter”, and asked Sinha to go ahead with the presentation.

Denying the allegation, Sinha said there was “absolutely no question” of the budget being leaked. He later told reporters that the budget had to be “demystified” since both the print and electronic media came out with their own estimates which had proved to be wrong.

“For about two months, the media — print and electronic — had been coming out with its own estimates. Ninety to 95 per cent of these predictions have proved (to be) wrong.”    

New Delhi, Feb. 29 
While the BJP sang hosannas to the general budget, finance minister Yashwant Sinha came in for flak from the Sangh parivar, with both the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) — the trade union wing of the RSS — slamming the budget as “lacklustre”, “unfocused” and “anti-worker”.

Sinha, incidentally, was a nominee of the Sangh and the swadeshi lobby for the finance minister’s post. Though the Prime Minister was keen on Jaswant Singh in his first tenure, he was over-ruled by RSS bosses who thought Sinha, with his “pro-swadeshi” tilt, was a “better” candidate.

But after his endorsement of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s globalisation policy and fast-track reforms, Sinha seems to have fallen out of favour with the swadeshi wing.

Swadeshi Jagran Manch convenor S. Gurumurthy told The Telegraph: “I feel there is no bold initiative in the budget. It is an attempt to balance several compelling and conflicting interests.”

According to him, though this year’s budget, like its predecessor, “looks more at India” and “tried to regenerate internal forces”, it lacked even a “medium-term” vision.

“Unless you have that kind of vision, the kind of forces you are trying to regenerate will not succeed,” Gurumurthy warned.

Citing the example of the textile industry, Gurumurthy said it should have been exempt from input costs like excise duty to equip the sector for international competition. “On the contrary, a single rate of taxation is likely to enhance its burden,” he said, adding, “The kind of direction one would expect from this budget is not seen.”

Criticising the budget, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh said: “It has totally disappointed the workers. They expected that the finance minister would, at least, accede to the most pressing demands of the working people. Even the income-tax exemption limit has not been raised,” said sangh general secretary, Hasubhai Dave.    

New Delhi, Feb. 29 A sum of Rs 350 crore can, at best, help set up a few thousand schools. And this is the crux of Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s generous gift to “universalisation of elementary education”, which he describes as “one of our key objectives”.

This is where the bulk of the additional money sanctioned for the human resource development ministry will go. Sinha couches this grant with a lot of figures and says “the plan allocation for elementary education has been increased from Rs 2,931 crore to Rs 3,729 crore next year”.

But a few thousand schools are not going to achieve “universalisation of education” unless allocation is increased substantially in the next two years’ budgets.

Sinha insisted that this extra amount would give a big push to new initiatives like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan which would enable all children to enrol in school by 2003.

There are an estimated six crore children who will have to be brought within the school infrastructure.

The sum is being considered a pittance, given the scale of school-building the government is supposed to do. Besides, more money would be needed to pay more teachers once these schools come up.

A part of the money would have to come from the respective states. But with most states facing a cash crunch, it is unlikely that they would be able to cough up matching grants on time.

Another area in the elementary education sector where more money has been pumped in is the continuing District Primary Education Programme.

This additional amount will benefit several states. Four states — Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa and Gujarat — will be covered under the programme this year.

The National Literacy Mission is also being revamped. The objective is to raise the literacy rate to 75 per cent by the year 2005. However, an additional sum of only Rs 5 crore has been sanctioned for this.

The government has deferred plans to resort to cuts in the higher education sector. The budgetary allocation here has been pruned by only Rs 200 crore. No money, however, is being provided this year for upgrading libraries and laboratories in universities and colleges.

Significantly, the Indian Council for Historical Research, which got Rs 3 crore last year, has got Rs 5 crore this year.

The ICHR has been embroiled in a controversy with Left scholars accusing the current administrative bosses of toeing the Sangh Parivar line.    

Feb. 29 
Terming the budget “lacklustre” and “pedestrian”, the Congress said it was a “confused exercise” which failed to curb fiscal deficit or raise funds for poverty alleviation and infrastructure.

The party said it would introduce cut motions during the debate on the budget and its passage.

Former finance minister Manmohan Singh said the budget had failed to address key problems in the economy. “There is nothing in the budget which convinces us that it can lead to a 7 per cent growth,” he said.

He wondered how finance minister Yashwant Sinha could sustain a high level of domestic savings when the government had reduced GPF interest by 1 per cent. “The message is not to save,” he said.

Pranab Mukherjee criticised the 15 per cent hike in urea prices, saying it would hit farmers. He said Sinha should have convened a meeting of all political parties and organised a debate on subsidies. He wondered how the Centre would segregate those above the poverty line and those below it.

Manmohan relied on the Economic Survey presented in Parliament yesterday to find holes in Sinha’s focus on poverty alleviation, employment and fiscal deficit. He said according to the Survey, real wages for unskilled workers had declined by 2 per cent. “The finance minister has done nothing to reverse that,” he said.

The Left parties also flayed the Union budget as an “attack on the poor” saying it is a natural fallout of liberalisation. “The attack on the poor and the curtailment of public investment are both natural consequences of the liberalisation agenda,” said the CPM politburo. In a two-pronged attack, the Left parties criticised the government for coming down heavily on the poor and carrying the liberalisation policies even further.

It said the BJP government is a step ahead of the Congress on liberalisation and the budget only confirms this. The slashing of food subsidies by over 1,100 crore, the CPM said, will only worsen the condition of the poor. “The finance minister has sought to camouflage his attack on the poor by saying that subsidies are now going to be targeted at those below the poverty line,” the CPM said.

The West Bengal government has dubbed the Union budget anti-people, self-contradictory and dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Chief minister Jyoti Basu condemned the “blatant move” towards privatisation of the banking sector by reducing government equity to 33 per cent.    

New Delhi, Feb. 29 
The city’s glitterati throw big parties at these palatial houses. But registered as “farmhouses”, these escape the tax-net with every budget as governments fear to tax farmers.

Farmhouse owners on the outskirts of Delhi, especially in the south and on Mehrauli Road, have been minting money by renting out their sprawling compounds for parties, banquets or weddings. But finally they seem to under watch.

Finance minister Yashwant Sinha has said he will begin taxing these farmhouses. He would include their income from agriculture as part of the total taxable income, but money made from leasing out their premises would certainly be taxed.

Farmhouse-owners are not unduly worried, however. “How would they catch us? We maintain no records and do not give out receipts,” chuckled one.

Vijay Agarwal, a leading caterer who looked after food arrangements at several Mehrauli farmhouse parties, says: “These owners make crores. To host a party in a farmhouse can cost anywhere between Rs 50,000 to Rs 3 lakh depending on the size of the plot.”

He adds: “Apart from this, there is money to be made by arranging catering, decorations and other things necessary for a gaudy Delhi bash.”

Agarwal agrees that there are no receipts involved and even those who run clandestine, sleazy restaurant-cum-bars do not provide cash receipts for food and beverages. They only charge money for “guests” as did Bina Ramani whose “illegal business” was exposed when a model, Jessica Lall, was shot in the premises of a restaurant run by her.

A.C. Suri, associated with Woodstock, a farmhouse where parties are held, said the government would have to be fair. “Everyone knows that all farmhouses make money on the sly. We do it openly and are willing to pay tax. But the government must ensure that there is no discrimination and all these clandestine money-makers would not be omitted from the tax ambit,” he demands.

One farm-house owner requesting anonymity said: “I would like to know how the government proposes to identify income other than agricultural income. They would need to go through cash registers and receipt books but farmhouse-owners do not have any written record of the transactions they enter into.”    


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