The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Students to handicapped: FM dares to care

New Delhi, July 8: For the much neglected social sector, it was roses all the way.

The government has, for the first time, levied an education cess, risking the displeasure of a section of voters which might grumble about shelling out extra money.

“In my scheme of things no issue enjoys a higher priority than providing basic education to all children,” finance minister P. Chidambaram, who termed his budget “caring and daring”, said in his speech.

Chidambaram also announced the decision to restructure the Universal Health Insurance Scheme, which, he said, was now “skewed in favour of the non-poor”.

When the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in power, physically challenged persons had demanded customs duty exemption on wheelchairs, walking frames, Braille computer terminals, artificial limbs, stair lifts and listening devices. But the finance minister of the NDA government gave them very little.

Chidambaram today extended a generous hand. The budget exempted all these devices and much more from customs duty.

While presenting his budget, the finance minister repeatedly said the common minimum programme (CMP) was the blueprint for the United Progressive Alliance government’s budget proposals.

The proposals for education indicate the UPA regime’s resolve to universalise elementary education and raise additional resources. The new education cess will yield Rs 4000-Rs 5000 a year.

“The whole of the amount collected as cess will be earmarked for education which will naturally include a nutritious, cooked midday meal,” Chidambaram said.

Murli Manohar Joshi, the human resource development minister in the previous government, had also toyed with the idea of an education cess but was not able to introduce it.

The latest figures in the economic survey show that India is still way behind neighbours like China and Sri Lanka in terms of literacy. This is despite the jump in literacy figures from 18.3 per cent in 1951 to 64.8 per cent in 2001.

“I believe there will be a new dawn for the poor children in India if primary education and the nutritious midday meal scheme can work hand in hand,” Chidambaram said.

The finance minister has also put in place a scheme for upgrading technical education. “The government is launching a programme to upgrade 500 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) over the next five years at the rate of 100 ITIs a year,” he said.

Students applying for loans from commercial banks will have an easier time than before. The banks have agreed to waive the need for collateral for loans up to Rs 7.5 lakh, if a satisfactory guarantee can be given on the student’s behalf.

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