Cut interest on farm loans, raise IT exemption: Cong

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New Delhi, Feb 6: The Congress expects Finance Minister P Chidambaram to raise the income tax exemption limit from 1.1 lakh to 1.6 lakh, reduce interest on farm loans from 7 per cent, launch weather insurance scheme and introduce 'aam aadmi' housing loan up to Rs one lakh for the marginalised sections in his 2008-09 General Budget.

As many as 38 CWC members, AICC General Secretaries and office bearers of the youth and the women's wing of the Congress had a two-and-a-half hour interaction with the Finance Minister and laid bare the party's expectations from the Budget. ''Mr Chidambaram gave a positive response...,'' Congress media cell incharge Mr Veerappa Moily said, briefing reporters about the meeting held at AICC Headquarters.

The Congress, he said, also wanted prices of special commodities to be contained. Farm loans to small and marginal farmers should be waived on a priority basis, and agricultural credit stepped up to reach out to unchartered areas and imbalanced regions, on the basis of the Rangarajan Committee Report.

A scheme should be introduced for redressing the debt of farmers keeping in view the recommendations of the Radhakrishnan Committee.

Procedure of micro loans for minorities should be made simple and without guarantor. Procedures of loan distribution should be on a par with those of SCs and Sts.

Corpus fund of Maulana Azad Education Foundation should be raised to Rs 1,000 crore to benefit educational institutions for muslims.

Fool-proof monitoring system for distribution of loans and other benefits among minorities should be introduced.

Flagship programmes of the UPA, such as NREGP, should be put on the implementation trajectory with emphasis on monitoring the performance on the ground.

Among the other expectations, the Congress wants the public distribution system redesigned as food security scheme, targeting the needy, Mr Moily said. Cheaper and accessible credit should be provided to artisans such as handloom weavers. Besides existing crop insurance scheme, weather insurance scheme should be introduced universally to take care of calamities and natural disasters so as to tackle the problem of farmers' suicide.

'Aam Aadmi Housing Loan' up to Rs one lakh should be provided to minorities, SCs, STs and other marginal sections living in villages.

Rural infrastructure projects focusing on backward areas and segments of society, undertaken from foreign exchange reserves, should be expedited.

The Prime Minister's programmes for poverty eradication, infrastructure and environment should be implemented expeditiously.

Schemes should be launched to use surplus labour in rural areas by providing incentives to agro-based industries to prevent migration to urban areas.

Massive employment generation programmes along with skill development should be introduced to bridge the gap between semi-educational and professionally-qualified youths.

UNI

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