FM will your Budget have something for the last man too?

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New Delhi, Feb 28 (UNI) Slashing of rail fares across the board in the Railway Budget, has raised hopes among the common man that he is in for another bonanza in the General Budget tomorrow.

The widespread perception is that the Budget will be 'people friendly,' with the aim of providing 'roti,' 'kapda' and 'makaan' to one and all.

The logic is the same--the General elections in the not too distant a future will be a big and the last opportunity for the government to appease 'Aam Admi.' The two budgets--The Railway and General Budget--are the last of the UPA government.

Apart from the provision of basic goods and services, there is also a clamour for providing primary education and health. The thrust so far on private education and the phenomenal growth of the health services in the private sector, which cater only to the rich, has left the poor high and dry.

''The government has not fulfilled its oft-repeated promise of investing three per cent of total spending on health and six per cent on education,'' says Aditi Kapur of OXFAM, a development NGO.

Aditi laments the deplorable state of health care in the government and the poor state in which public sector education is.

Another key concern of the common man is the price situation, where official claims and people's experience is at variance. An oft-repeated comment is that one does not have to read reports in a newspaper to know whether prices are rising or falling.

Why is there a discrepency in this regard? Economists attribute this to the large gap between the Whole Sale Price Index (WPI) and retail prices. Inflation is measured in terms of WPI.

What matters to the lay man are retail prices.

Tall claims are made by officials relating to the WPI--known as inflation rate--being maintained at four per cent. The man on the street finds commodity prices and those of services as prohibitive.

Taxes too dig a deep hole in the pockets of many. These include-- Income Tax, Value Added Tax, Service Tax and Education cess--to name but a few.

Besides, people have to dole out large amounts on parking charges, water charges, entertainent tax and house property taxes. This reduces the disposable income of the common man.

''Prices of food items, fruits and vegetables, are increasing. The government should do something to control prices of consumer goods,'' says Asha Beri, an officer at Indian Overseas Bank.

People by and large expect Finance Minister P Chidambaram to reduce excise duties and import duties on a slew of commodities of daily use.

Over the years, import tariffs have been gradually coming down, with government having given commitment to the international community to bring these down to ASEAN levels.

''There is need for further reforms in the import tariff structure,'' says Dr Nagesh Kumar, Director Research and Information System for the Developing Countries(RIS). The New Delhi-based think tank has done phenomenal work on tariff structures across the globe.

Reeling under the high prices of real estate, the common man also expects Mr Chidambaram to make housing affordable.

''By reducing taxes and duties and other measures, Mr Chidambaram can do this. Everybody wants his dream house, big or small one,'' says Sunita Arora, who runs her own boutique.

She opines that the Minister should give a better deal to the fairer sex by measures such as higher exemptions on personal income tax.

A senior consultant at KPMG, Shobit Kapur says, ''More tax means more planning. Mr Chidambaram should give a breather.'' ''I feel he should do something about the inflation rate too,'' he added.

The concerns of the young among the middle classes entail making branded goods cheaper, including clothes and shoes.

The youth in the cities, which blindly apes the West, finds that life would be hum drum without classy branded goods.

Even the middle class is not a homogeous lot. There are many who are worried about the agrandising poverty amidst plenty, growing unemployment and social evils which still persist, despite great strides having been made to modernise the country.

''It is the time to think about the people living below poverty line, people who are under employed and people who are 'differently-abled'. Prosperity comes when all are healthy and happy,'' says Neerja, a Commerce student working with an NGO.

Yet the Budget does not inspire everyone. Some do not understand its nitty gritty's and its intricacies. Some find the situation so hopeless and think that no one is interested in improving their lot.

Bittoo, a small time grocer, says, ''We were poor, we are poor and we will remain poor. We cannot give good food and education to our children. Besides, everything is gettting so expensive. The Budget has little meaning for us.'' Mr Chidambaram will you do something for the likes of Bittoo too? UNI SG MP PM1052

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