Posted on January 13, 2011
Development of social, tribal and semi-urban sectors advised
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee met non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on Thursday for a pre-budget consultation. A range of demands were put forth by eminent civil society heads and activists. They suggested to incorporate an alternate development vision for the nation’s budget engineering.
Four key demands were made, as summarised by Swami Agnivesh, president of World Council for Arya Samaj, and Rajesh Tandon, excecutive director of Participatory Research in Asia, an international centre for promotion of participation and democratic governance.
One, to prioritise higher allocations in the social sector, including health and eduction. Two, to implement true decentralisation and allocation in tribal areas, which is key to prevent Maoist violence. Three, to give larger allocations and attention to the small and midsized towns since the focus has been too much on big cities. Last, to do away with the direct tax code, which will stymie the NGO sector, making them an extension of the government.
The National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM) made a case for provision of subsidised foodgrains for 75 per cent of India’s population. “We do not favour the Rangarajan Committee’s decision, which identifies bottlenecks for subsidies even as the total production in India is four times higher than the demand,” noted Sandeep Pandey on behalf of NAPM. He also outlined the need for a separate budget for agriculture on the lines of the Railways Budget, saying agrarian distress has followed adoption of industrialisation policies.
Agnivesh noted that they have made a case for a uniform minimum wage system to bring workers under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) at par with government employees. “It is consistent with principles of human rights,” he said.
Samit Aich, India director, Greenpeace, advocated for green budgets. He outlined a process by which organic agriculture could be funded and dovetailed with government schemes, such as NREGA. This has a potential to prevent environmental degradation. “While Rs 50,000 crore are provided for chemical fertiliser subsidies, the budget for schemes with some provision for organic agriculture is only Rs 5,000 crore,” he noted.
Mukherjee, when asked about his opinion on the demands made, said, “The rule for the finance minister is to have ears open and mouth shut.”
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