The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Common plan wish list

New Delhi, May 14: The Congress and the Left will work on a common minimum programme that will focus on key economic areas such as PSUs, farming, investment in social and physical infrastructure, employment generation and social security.

Other priorities will be fiscal consolidation for the Union and states and strengthening the public distribution system.

The CPM wants a ban on the sale of profit-making public sector undertakings and a restructuring plan for sick or potentially sick units. However, it will have no problem if “terminally ill” PSUs are sold off or shut down.

The Left also wants a policy worked out on the sale of the residual stake in bluechip companies, like Balco, that have already been privatised, keeping in view the potential to earn long-term income.

Another item on the wish list is the revival of the corpus for divestment proceeds in order to channel the money into social and physical infrastructure and revival of sick state units.

Both the Congress and the Left have done some spadework on these issues while working out their manifestos. These are now likely to be concretised after a series of meetings.

“The Left is not against reforms...we want reforms but we all have to realise this vote is against the so-called reforms of the previous government which touched only corporates,” the CPM’s Nilotpal Basu said, putting forth his party’s assessment of the election outcome.

Abani Roy of the RSP said “all policy prescriptions have to address the common man”.

Both sides also appear to agree on linking interest rates to inflation -- to address senior citizens’ concerns about falling income levels.

Fiscal consolidation to bring down the combined fiscal deficit of states and the Centre from a current high of 11 per cent is also a priority. This would mean, without saying so, that the proposed ruling alliance would not be averse to fine-tuning subsidies or other government expenses, besides evolving “new innovative methods of raising taxes”.

A debt-swap scheme for states, which has till now proved unpopular because of a large number of strings attached, may also be recast under pressure from Bengal’s Marxists. They have been leading a revolt of state governments — joined last year by Congress-led states — against the scheme.

A cornerstone of the common policy could be state investment in agriculture. The focus will also be on introduction of better credit delivery and crop diversification to improve farm incomes.

The Left and the Congress want steps taken to cut out middlemen who eat into farm profits. Rationalising other costs like those for fertiliser, water and power is also on the wish list.

Another priority is state investment in social and physical infrastructure. “Social and infrastructure sector spending has to go up as private entrepreneurs cannot be expected to spend the needed money,” Basu said.

Policies for employment creation would include separate programmes to revive the small-scale sector and rural industries and generate self-employment.

Some 180,000 small-scale industries are rated sick. The Congress and the Left believe these should be put back on their feet to stem rumblings of social revolt as they employ the largest number of workers in the organised sector.

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