• Budget: Modi may thank people

    ON FEBRUARY 25, when state finance minister Vajubhai Vala rises to present his record 13th budget, there will be two words that can be read from between the lines of his elaborate speech. Thank You.

  • Centre for time-bound execution of Forest Act

    The ministry of tribal affairs has stressed the need for implementation of the Forest Rights Act in time bound manner, urging the states to complete preliminary work for identification of beneficiaries by the middle of March. In two-day meeting of state secretaries of tribal development that concluded in Delhi today, secretary of the ministry of tribal affairs G.B. Mukherji said the Centre was giving priority to the implementation of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

  • PIL challenges validity of forest Act

    New Delhi: In what could be a fresh headache for government, a petition challenging the constitutional validity of a pet UPA project, the Forest Rights Act aimed at giving land rights to traditional forest dwellers, has been filed by prominent wildlife groups in Supreme Court.

  • Child mortality: India behind even Bangla

    With two million children under the age of five dying every year, India has a dismal record in child mortality. Now, a new study conducted by Save the Children, which compares child mortality in a country to its national income per person, shows that India lags behind poorer neighbours like Bangladesh and Nepal when it comes to cutting child deaths. This, even despite its impressive rate of economic growth as compared to the other South Asian nations.

  • Budget to focus on women, farmers

    THE upcoming Union Budget should have a special focus on women and farmers. This message was conveyed by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi while speaking at a function in her constituency, Rae Bareli, on Wednesday, where she expressed certainty that finance minister P Chidambaram would "keep the common man's difficulties, especially faced by women and farmers, in mind while preparing the budget'. Speaking at a Bank of Baroda function to launch the 1,000th self-help group, Ms Gandhi was also quoted by agencies as saying that while 8-9% economic growth was not a mean achievement, real happiness would come when the common man's difficulties are wiped out. She added that health and education were keys for achieving real happiness. The comments are politically significant as many in the Congress have been saying much the same thing. At a pre-budget meeting with Mr Chidambaram recently, Congress leaders pointed out that 9% growth alone growth was unlikely to pay dividends for the party in an election year. They had asked the FM to focus on the

  • Expectations of the Left

    Prasenjit Bose Since the Finance Minister would not have the opportunity to present a full Budget in 2009 because of impending Lok Sabha elections, Budget 2008-09 would be his last opportunity to fulfil the promises made in the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP). The expenditure priorities have already been set forth by the Eleventh Plan. What is required is adequate budgetary support for the Plan, especially in priority areas like agriculture, PDS, education, health and employment generation. To meet the NCMP commitments, the gross budgetary support (GBS) for the Plan has to be stepped up. Budgets in 2006 and 2007 witnessed increases in GBS by around Rs 30,000 crore over previous years. It is evident that an increase of such magnitude, which amounts to less than 1% of current GDP, is inadequate for vital expenditure commitments. The increase in the GBS should be twice the amount seen in recent budgets. Agriculture, which was promised a new deal under the UPA, continues to languish. The advanced estimates for 2007-08 already show agricultural growth slipping to 2.6%, compared to 3.4% registered in 2006-07. To meet the Eleventh Plan target of 4% agriculture growth rate, the government needs to replace the half-hearted measures adopted so far with substantial allocations for debt relief, the Food Security Mission and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. The rise in prices of essential commodities over the last two years has underlined the importance of strengthening the PDS. Domestic food production and public procurement also needs to increase to avoid the embarrassment of high-cost wheat imports. India should increase the food subsidy, which currently stands only at around 1% of GDP. It is also time to consider doing away with the targeted PDS, which has turned out to be a failure, and introduce a revamped, more efficient and universal PDS. The ban on futures trading of wheat, rice and some pulses imposed last year should continue for the sake of stability in food prices. Education and health have been accorded high priority under the Eleventh Plan. Expenditure on the former, up five-fold over the Tenth Plan, is aimed at building 6,000 schools, funding the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to ensure the Right to Education, building new ITIs and vocational training institutes to bridge the skill deficit, and setting up 30 new central universities along with new IITs, IIMs and IISERs to expand the country's knowledge base. These laudable objectives have to be backed up by adequate outlays. Outlays on the rural health mission and more Aiims-type institutions also have to be increased. The universalisation of the ICDS is being impeded by inadequate funding, which needs to be addressed. The NREGA, despite problems, has succeeded in providing work to 27.7 million people this year. No doubt, its implementation needs to be streamlined and the monitoring mechanism improved. However, this should not come in the way of expanding the employment guarantee to all rural districts and also to urban areas. This is the single biggest welfare measure adopted by the UPA government, and has offered relief to the poorest and most vulnerable. This safety net must be strengthened under all circumstances. The revenue buoyancy seen over the past few years should help mobilise resources for increased welfare expenditure and public investments. Efforts to widen the tax base should continue. The last Budget contained a study of corporate tax, which showed that the effective tax rate for Companies in 2006-07 was 19.2% against the scheduled tax rate of 33.6%. Tax concessions to corporate taxpayers increased from Rs 34,618 crore in 2005-06 to Rs 50,075 crore in 2006-07. Budget 2008-09 should take steps to bring down these tax expenditures. The burgeoning foreign exchange reserves built up on the basis of FII inflows have turned into a liability. Rupee appreciation is hurting export sectors and efforts to buy up foreign exchange followed by sterilisation are also leading to additional fiscal costs. Reintroduction of long-term capital gains tax and increasing the rate of the short-term capital gains tax and the STT would help stanch the inflow of speculative capital, curb equity market volatility and raise resources. Budget 2008 also offers the opportunity to initiate the long pending restructuring of the indirect tax structure on petroleum products

  • Sonia, PM all ears to farmers ahead of kisan budget

    AHEAD of the Union budget, which is expected to make major announcements for the farm sector, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met farmers' representatives from Maharashtra, Haryana and Rajasthan here on Thursday. A large number of farmers from these states were given audience with Ms Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence in a bid to give her an opportunity to directly understand their problems, the party said. Congress leaders who attended the meeting said Ms Gandhi had assured them that "she would talk to PM and the FM' about their concerns. However, the Congress chief has already conveyed her message to the government that the budget should be aimed at the

  • By 2025, water for agriculture may fall to 12% of current level

    Water availability for agriculture was estimated to go down by up to 12% from the current level by 2025 if remedial measures were not taken, Indian Council of Agricultural Research director general Mangala Rai warned. "The water availability for agriculture is projected to be 10-12% of what is now available,' he said while inaugurating the Krishi Vigyan Mela here. Mr Rai said farmers would, in fact, require 25% more water in 2025 than what they are consuming currently to produce food grains for feeding the domestic population.

  • DG (Forests) to be member of court-appointed forest panel

    Move hopes to end acrimony between Govt panel looking after diversion of forest land for developmental projects and Central Empowered Committee NEW DELHI, FEBRUARY 21: In the light of repeated acrimonius exchanges between the Central Empowered Committee (CEC)

  • India hotspot for new infectious diseases

    Man-Animal Conflict Source Of Rising Infections, Says Study India is a hotspot for emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), a study by an international team of scientists which recently published its findings in the journal

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