Economic Development

  • Bihar announces gender budget'; agri sector gets maximum allocation

    Adding to its list of firsts, the Bihar Government has called this year's budget a "gender budget'. The budget has been planned in a way to focus on schemes launched exclusively for the welfare of women, said Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, who also holds the Finance portfolio, after presenting the state's budget on Monday. Since coming to power over two years ago, the Nitish Kumar Government has been focusing on women empowerment, and gender budget is being seen as yet another step in that direction. Bihar is the first state in the country to institute 50 per cent reservation for women in panchayat bodies. Other populist schemes like providing school uniforms and cycles to girl students and monetary help for marriage of girls from poor families have already been started. The highlight of the state budget this year, however, was the focus on the agriculture sector. Allocation for the sector was increased from Rs 133.45 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 191.34 crore in 2008-09, a raise of 43 per cent. The increased allocation is a reflection of the state's realisation that agriculture is the backbone of its economy. Another interesting aspect of the budget was an allocation of Rs 11 crore for more yoga training camps at district and sub-division-level hospitals of the state Government. Modi said that for six months, yoga training camps would be held at 27 district and 22 sub-divisional hospitals in the state. The state's budget, presented in the Assembly on Monday, was pegged at Rs 38,574 crore

  • Farm loan waiver tops Budget agenda

    Sonia Nudges Manmohan On Package For Farmers, Women And Tax Breaks Setting the agenda for the government, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has asked it to focus on farm loans, women-related schemes and income tax slabs in the Budget. During three rounds of deliberations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spread over the last week, the UPA chief, sources disclosed, sought to nudge her visitor on what she thinks should be the defining themes of the Budget in an election year. Sonia was keen on a package for farmers and there were already signs to suggest that the PM may have already heeded the advice. Addressing a group of farmers from Punjab asking for debt relief for small and marginal land owners, Singh said, "I would like to assure you that under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, our government will pay attention to the demands listed in the memorandum submitted.' The Congress chief also made no bones of the fact that the package figures on the top of the "to do' list she has framed for the government. "We know farmers are facing difficult times. I hope, I know Manmohan Singh's government will give due attention to your demands,' Sonia said. Sources rated the chances of a waiver, at least on the interest component, for defaulters among small and marginal farmers as a certainty. As reported by TOI on December 31, the package could cover bad and doubtful loans worth at least Rs 30,000 crore. While the PM refused to get into details citing Budget confidentiality, the government's receptivity to suggestions from political leadership should be happy augury for those expecting a relook at income tax slabs. While the government was expected to push up the exemption limit to Rs 1.25 lakh from Rs 1.1 lakh at present, an upward revision in the tax slab was not being hotly pursued by the finance ministry. An increase in the basic slab of 10% from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh would cost the exchequer around Rs 5,000 crore and the tax department brass was not keen on foregoing easy money coming its way. Given the enhanced stakes for the party in wooing urban India, the party leadership is hoping that Sonia's prod might cause them to pull out their calculators once again. Delimitation has increased the number of urban constituencies where tax payers constitute a significant slice of the electorate while Delhi, which boasts of the largest number of salaried tax payers in the country, is scheduled to go to polls later this year. The party expects tax concession to help blunt BJP's attempt to reclaim its constituency among the urban middle class. Apart from the plight of farmers, Sonia has also asked the government to focus on schemes aimed at empowering women. She had made this priority plain while on a visit to her constituency last week, and the preference for "gender justice' was repeated during the interactions with Singh. Sources said that among other things, the Integrated Child Development Scheme was likely to be strengthened. sidhartha.kumar@timesgroup.com diwakar.asthana@timesgroup.com POPULAR TOUCH: Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi with a delegation of farmers from Punjab, in New Delhi on Monday

  • Budget 2008-09: The burden of expectations

    N. Ravi The challenge before the Finance Minister in preparing a pre-election budget is to balance the minimal tax sops needed to keep the markets in an upbeat mood with massive spending programmes that will find resonance with the electorate. Preparing for the election-eve budget, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram must have found the burden of expectations unusually high. Not only is he expected to provide the usual budgetary sops to please all but he is also called upon to correct the sense of drift that has come to mark the last one year of functioning of the United Progressive Alliance government and recapture the popular imagination. And this he has to accomplish without overly stretching either fiscal norms or his own credibility that will be called into question by a sudden show of solicitude at election time. Budgets are invariably characterised as pro-poor, pro-growth or pro-rich, depending on one's perspective and if such labels can normally be shrugged off, they become particularly critical at this time. In a sense, the Finance Minister will have to be riding the two horses of populism and fostering growth. For while this year's budget can be expected to lean heavily towards giveaways, it cannot ignore measures needed to sustain economic performance. True the mood of industry and the markets does not necessarily translate into the mood of the electorate as the National Democratic Alliance government found to its cost when its overdrawn

  • Chidambaram cannot afford a harsh budget

    Ashok Dasgupta Elections are due in many State Assemblies this year P. Chidambaram With Assembly polls due in a number of States during the year-end and the general elections in 2009, it is a foregone conclusion that the Union budget for the next fiscal, to be presented by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in three days from now, will not be a harsh one, even at worst. For the simple reason that over the last few weeks, the people's aspirations of deriving some benefits by way of budgetary goodies have been raised so high through statements by various functionaries of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and its coalition partners that anything not matching up to their expectations would perhaps be viewed as a great betrayal. And that's something that the ruling regime can ill afford, especially when the government is set to unveil its policy programmes and statement of accounts, the fifth and final in its current Lok Sabha term. In effect, the government will not only have to but also be seen as compensating the

  • BoA clears 14 new SEZs

    The Board of Approval (BoA) of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) on Monday cleared 14 new proposals, including ten formal approvals. While two SEZs each have been cleared in Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, one each will come up in Maharashtra, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The BoA granted formal approvals to two SEZs of the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd. (SIPCOT), one for transport engineering goods at Tirunelveli and another of automobile and auto ancillary at Thiruvannamalai. Similarly, two SEZs of Mahindra Worldcity (Jaipur) Ltd. of handicrafts and light engineering at Jaipur were given formal approvals. Other SEZs cleared include an information technology SEZ by Videocon Realtors and Infrastructure Ltd. at Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, IT SEZ by Devbhumi Realtors Pvt. Ltd. at Ranga Reddy District in Andhra Pradesh, pharmaceuticals SEZ by JB SEZ Pvt. Ltd. at Panoli in Gujarat and Power SEZ by Wardha Power Company at Chandrapur in Maharashtra. According to Commerce Secretary G. K. Pillai, who also heads the Board of Approval, so far formal approvals have been granted for setting up of 439 SEZs out of which 201 have been notified as on date. The Commerce Secretary said that over Rs. 67,347 crore had been invested in these notified SEZs, giving direct employment to 97,478 persons, which is in addition to the employment provided to 1.83 lakh persons by the seven Central Government established SEZs.

  • Farmers from 20 states want their pie in Union Budget

    Ahead of the Union Budget, farmers across the country have asked the government to consider agriculture as a separate entity and allocate a separate budget for it, besides interlink of all the rivers. Farmers from more than 20 states of the country had assembled under one banner and put forth their demands to MPs, Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Commerce and Industry Minister and the Planning Commission. Senior officials of the Consortium of Indian Farmers' Association (CIFA) said the farming community in the country wants a permanent solution to their problems rather than a short-term one through bonus on crops. "Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath have agreed to a long-term policy,' they told The Indian Express. CIFA secretary general Prabhakar K Reddy said they had urged the ministers to fix rates of crops based on cost of cultivation. He said they have also asked that rivers across the country should be interlinked so that input costs could be cut down. Farmer leaders from 24 states of the country had also met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, BJP president Rajnath Singh and Telgu Desham party chief Chandrababu Naidu. "A meeting of all MPs across the country has been scheduled for March 15 at Andhra Bhawan in Delhi for an open debate,' said farmers. Reddy said, "The government should have a national policy on agriculture and the report of National Farmers' Commission Chairman MS Swaminathan should be put implemented.' Punjab president of the CIFA Satnam Singh Baheru said if the MPs failed to pay heed to their plight, they would blacklist them and never vote for them.

  • GMAS warns of agitation if SEZs not scrapped

    Goa's Movement Against SEZs Convenor Matanhy Saldanha Tuesday warned GMAS would be forced to launch second stage of its agitation if the State government failed to get all SEZs, including the three notified ones, cancelled immediately. In a statement issued today, Saldanha said the Board of Approval at the Centre had contradicted the statement of Commerce Ministry that SEZs would not be imposed on the State and more so when the Government does not want it. BoA recently issued show-cause notices to 12 SEZs asking why the approval granted to them should not be withdrawn stating that the move was in line with the principle of natural justice. At the same time the Board deferred the decision on de-notifying the three notified zones giving its promoters a new lease of life. The above moves of BoA have not gone well with GMAS whose Convenor charged the former of contradicting the public statement of Union Commerce Minister Kamal Nath who had said SEZs would not be imposed on the people of Goa if they don't want them. In the statement, Saldanha said the decision of BoA on 12 SEZs and the move seeking consultation with the State Government on three notified ones smacked of double standards. "If BoA takes any decision contrary to the will of the people, GMAS will be forced to construe that the former (Board) and the Union Commerce Ministry are involved in underhand dealings in connivance with the State Government to approve SEZs,' Saldanha declared. He, however, said GMAS was pleased with Cipla's plan to shift from Keri to some other place in the country. We request the promoters of other two notified SEZs to voluntarily leave Goa as the zones are shunned by Goans, he remarked. Meanwhile, the convenor said a meeting has been fixed on February 27, at 11.30 am to take up the subject.

  • Focus on agriculture

    The article on "Focus on agriculture' (Business Line, February 18) highlighted the need for giving importance to the agricultural sector in the context of its importance to the economy. The article focused on price levels of agricultural commodities in the background of the Government's concern for checking inflation. In this context, it is worth looking at the growth strategy adopted by Israel, a small country made up of predominantly desert and semi-arid land. Since its independence in 1948, it has been able to increase its agricultural production 16-fold, thanks to the synergies and co-operation between agricultural scientists, extension workers, farmers and service industries. Israeli farmers conserve water by constructing terraces in the hilly regions, which naturally holds water. Besides, drip irrigation techniques are used to reduce water consumption for agriculture. Also, use of optimal water, sunlight and air pressure increases productivity. Genetic technology and tissue culture have been employed to reduce the cropping time. Besides, techniques such as use of soil preparation machinery have increased soil fertility. Result: Higher production at low cost. This has enabled the country to export more than 70 per cent of its farm produce. What India requires is a marriage of superior cost-effective techniques and farming, akin to the Israeli model, to increase production at lesser cost. This will increase the profit margin of farmers and could be a solution to their economics-related problems. P. E. Muthu Mumbai

  • Govt does not want any SEZs, reiterates CM

    Chief Minister Digambar Kamat has reiterated that the State government does not want any SEZs in Goa including the three already notified ones. The SEZ Board of Approval at the Centre gave a fresh lease of life to the developers by deciding to seek reply from them as to why their projects shouldn't be scrapped in the light of the concerns raised by the Goa government and citizens' groups. Goa's Movement Against SEZs delegation led by convenor Matanhy Saldanha met the chief minister at his Altinho residence to clarify the government stand in the matter. "He (Kamat) has assured us that the government will not allow any SEZs in Goa,' Saldanha told Herald. It may be recalled that despite a strong pro-SEZ lobby in the cabinet, the chief minister on December 31 had taken a decision to scrap all SEZ projects in Goa and subsequently the decision was conveyed to the Centre. Since then however, the Centre has deferred taking any decision on SEZs in Goa until two days ago when BoA decided to consult the Goa government on the issue. The former Cortalim MLA was critical of the BoA, saying it has contradicted the statement of Commerce Ministry that SEZs would not be imposed on the State and more so when the Government does not want it. Yesterday, GMAS had warned that it would be forced to launch second stage of its agitation if the State Government failed to get all SEZs, including the three notified ones, cancelled immediately. "If BoA takes any decision contrary to the will of the people, GMAS will be forced to construe that the former (Board) and the Union Commerce Ministry are involved in underhand dealings in connivance with the State Government to approve SEZs,' Saldanha declared. CONFUSION: There appears to be some confusion over the number of SEZs quoted by BoA. Union ministry of Commerce had approved seven SEZs for Goa till December 2007 of which three were notified. But BoA now says that show cause notices would be sent to 12 SEZs. Officials here too wonder whether the figure quoted by BoA is correct and if so which are the ones as no communication had been received by the state government pertaining to more than seven. The 8 additional proposals which were forwarded to the Centre anyway are scrapped.

  • TN chalks out new MSME policy

    Envisages generation of one million direct and indirect opportunities The plethora of subsidies and incentives announced in the new exclusive policy for the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) sector by the Tamil Nadu government will create a large employment potential. New opportunities will be thrown open for artisans, ITI and diploma holders in the state to come and set up their own units, according to small industry associations. Tamil Nadu has unveiled a separate policy for the MSME sector with a vision to enhance the competitiveness of the sector and aim for a sustained annual growth rate of over 10 per cent for MSMEs. The new MSME policy, apart from encouraging agro-based industries, envisages generation of one million direct and indirect employment opportunities during the 11th Five Year Plan. The new MSME policy pampers tiny manufacturing units with capital subsidy on plant and machinery, low-tension power tariff subsidy, subsidy on assessed VAT and stamp duty exemption. Over and above this, the additional subsidies for units set up by women entrepreneurs, physically disabled persons and trans-gender entrepreneurs will be highly rewarding and encouraging, says S Srinivasan, president, Ambattur Industrial Estate Manufacturers' Association. New entrepreneurs and the small scale sector could reap the benefits of the current policy and become a regular feeder sector for the vibrant medium and large-scale sector, especially active in the automobile and engineering sectors in the state, he adds. K Gopalakrishnan, honourary general secretary of Tamil Nadu Small and Tiny Industries Association, says the policy will give fillip to the MSME eco-system in the state. The subsidy schemes will help small industry upgrade technology and machinery, thereby enhancing their competitiveness. The purpose of announcing a separate policy for the MSME sector is to make it co-exist with large industries as well as accelerate industrial growth and generate large-scale job opportunities, especially in the rural and backward areas, says P Selvam, secretary, small industry, government of Tamil Nadu. "With this new policy, we expect MSME sector contribution to the total exports from Tamil Nadu to go up substantially from the present 35 per cent,' he adds. Growing industrial demand has driven expansion by several units in the industrial estates, which are considered the growth engines of small and medium enterprises in and around Chennai. However, the units point out that land is not readily available for these units and expansion to other areas will prove to be unviable. The MSME policy prescribes, among other incentives and subsidies, reservation of 20 per cent of the land in all SIPCOT (Tamil Nadu Small Industries Development Corporation) industrial estates for MSMEs and upto 30 per cent for micro industries within SIDCO estates. This initiative is expected to help the small industry in a big way. Small industry bodies have for long pointed out that skyrocketing land prices caused by rampant SEZ promotion is affecting small industry growth. The policy also talks of enacting an Industrial Single Window Clearance Act for single window committees at the state and district levels and authority for setting time periods for approvals. The state government also plans to develop 22 new industrial estates in several parts of the state. Presently, there are about 78 industrial estates in Tamil Nadu. Locations for the new industrial estates have been identified and the government has also acquired lands for the these new estates. Lauding the state government for announcing a policy for revival of sick MSMEs, Srinivasan urges the government to undertake a detailed study on the causes of sickness. He points out that a primary cause for sickness is non-payment of supplier bills by medium and large industries; besides, lack of financial support, non-availability of technology, product process obsolescence, interrupted power supply and labour issues. The MSME sector in Tamil Nadu accounts for over 95 per cent of all industrial units, about 40 per cent of the output in the manufacturing sector and 35 per cent of exports. There were about 5,30,000 registered micro and small scale units as on March, 2007, providing employment to over 37 lakh people with a total investment of around Rs 16,817 crore. There is also a substantial unregistered sector of over 600,000 units which serves as a nursery for entrepreneurial talent, according to the MSME policy statement.

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