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Miffed Murli protests cut in plan support

New Delhi, Feb. 13: Human resources minister Murli Manohar Joshi has spearheaded a virtual revolt of Cabinet ministers against finance minister Jaswant Singh’s harsh diktat that plan allocations out of this year’s budget be slashed by Rs 17,000 crore.

Joshi and several other ministers including political heavyweights like labour minister Sahib Singh and tourism minister Jagmohan have dashed off strong protest letters to either Planning Commission deputy chairman K. C. Pant or to the Prime Minister himself protesting against the huge cuts.

According to Cabinet sources, the move has touched a raw nerve as many of these schemes are pet projects of the Prime Minister himself as he feels they give a human face to reforms.

Joshi has complained that by slashing his Plan fund requirement from Rs 7,096 crore by nearly 40 per cent to Rs 4,900 crore, the government has hit plans for universalisation of elementary education and a Supreme Court dictated mid-day meal programme for ten million primary school children.

“Political opponents (Congress and the Left) have been making it an issue that the government is not serious about the universalisation of elementary education. Public opinion would react strongly since the mid day meal programme is being monitored by the Supreme Court and extensively covered by the media. Our inability to make payments towards the scheme will be a serious blow to the reputation and credibility of the government,” Joshi wrote in a letter dated February 11 addressed to K. C. Pant.

Ninety per cent of the outlay of the department of elementary education is spent on Sarva Siksha Abhiyan to fulfill a constitutional obligation on universalisation of education and a mid-day meal programme and its reduction by 40 per cent obviously hits the programmes badly.

Sahib Singh too has sent an outburst against a halving of funds for schemes meant to provide a safety net to millions of farm labour and to root out child labour.

The staccato letter has warned it will not be possible to augment the National Child labour Programme as announced by the Prime Minister if funds were not forthcoming.

The normally forthright Jagmohan has also dashed off a letter in a similar vein about a proposed slash in funds for his pet scheme — restoration of India's archaeological monuments.

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