The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Monsoon gift for pals, best pack for Laloo

New Delhi, July 8: Laloo Prasad Yadav may not be the king of the 14th Lok Sabha, but as a kingmaker he was showered with budget bounties when the finance minister played Santa Claus to Bihar.

P. Chidambaram’s biggest gift was a special Rs 3,225-crore economic package. The minister made it clear the amount could be increased if necessary. An added bonanza was the special Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana, a project meant to help out the poorest districts. The government has identified 13 districts in Bihar, each of which will get Rs 4.5 crore. This means an additional allocation of Rs 58.5 crore.

Laloo Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, the DMK and the Nationalist Congress Party are among the United Progressive Alliance constituents to benefit the most. All three parties have an election to fight in alliance with the Congress — the NCP in September-October, the RJD in February and the DMK in 2006.

The BJP sat mum as the Bihar package was unveiled. Later, party president M. Venkaiah Naidu made light of it, saying: “Laloo asked for Rs 1 lakh and 90,000 crore of the Centre and all he got was a Rs 3,000-crore package. This was already announced by our government.”

But RJD sources said the package was a “big” political weapon to make the point that Bihar, which had lost its revenue sources when Jharkhand was carved out, would finally be able to make up the shortfall.

Although Bihar was a key state for the NDA, whose second biggest constituent was the Janata Dal (United), it was never showered with the largesse Laloo Prasad has got.

The Bihar bonanza had the Samajwadi Party, which rules Uttar Pradesh, frothing at the mouth. Amar Singh said the budget was meant for the country, not “just one or two states”.

“Sonia and Rahul (Gandhi) are doing roadshows in UP. They are saying there is no development. But what is needed is a real show and not a road show. At least Rs 10,000 crore is needed for UP,” he said.

While Maharashtra may not have got packages or schemes, certain components of the agriculture announcements appear to have been finalised with the agrarian state in mind. NCP chief and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar had extracted a Rs 500-crore package days after assuming office.

The announcements to double horticulture production by 2011-12 under the National Horticulture Mission and offer policy and price support to farmers to diversify into oilseeds production were aimed at helping Maharashtra. The budget also spoke of a large tax concession to new agro-processing industries. Plus, there was zero excise on tractors, daily-use machinery and implements as well as reduced duty on meat, poultry, fish products and oil-seed industries.

Congress sources said the farmer-friendly measures would help them in another poll-bound state, Haryana.

When DMK chief M. Karunanidhi called the budget “good”, he had reason to. Tamil Nadu has got India’s first large desalination plant to produce potable water from sea water —music to the ears of water-starved Chennai.

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