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Preity springs request for cheap napkins

New Delhi, Feb. 18: Pencilling his budget, P. Chidambaram may be distracted by thoughts of Preity Zinta.

The dimpled Bollywood actress today called on the finance minister, busy finalising the Union budget, and urged him to exempt sanitary napkins from the value-added tax (VAT) regime.

Preity was part of a 35-member women’s team headed by women and child development minister Renuka Chowdhury, which presented Chidambaram with their wish list. Lawyers, housewives and textile workers were also in the delegation.

The team did not include firebrand CPM leader Brinda Karat, usually among the most vocal on espousing women’s demands.

Instead, Preity was the star, and held the attention of a smiling Chidambaram for much of the meeting, sources said.

The actress was the only Bollywood star to speak up when the film industry had received threat calls from the underworld. She later became brand ambassador for bravery awards sponsored by a private firm.

The demand over sanitary napkins done, Chowdhury, Preity and the rest moved to other issues.

Women, they said, should be charged lower property tax than men. “To improve hold over property, it is essential that the government adopts differential rates of property tax. That is what we told Chidambaram,” a participant said.

Other existing taxes should be rationalised from a gender perspective, the delegation told the minister.

The premium on health insurance packages should be reduced for women, it said, also asking for tax benefits for factories and units employing a substantial number of women.

Chowdhury is learnt to have complained that women are increasingly being excluded from formal sources of finance. “Women need credit from banks in much larger amounts than currently provided for,” a source quoted her as saying. Micro-finance alone would not lead to women’s economic emancipation, she added.

Preity, sources said, emphasised the need for greater participation of women in “all walks of life” and asked Chidambaram to press for greater access to higher education for them.

The minister “did not commit to anything. He just heard us out. But he was patient”, said a member of the team.

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