PM hails Budget; Opposition dubs it 'election stunt'

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New Delhi, Feb 29 (UNI) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today described the Budget 2008-09 presented by Finance Minister P Chidambaram in Parliament as ''excellent and outstanding'' but the Opposition dubbed it an ''Election budget''.

Lauding the Finance Minister for addressing the distress of the debt-ridden farmers and taking measures to check inflation, create employment and insulate the GDP growth rate from a possible recession, Dr Singh said it was the Budget of the ''Aam admi, middle class and farmers.'' Mr Chidambaram had lived up to the expectation of the UPA government that worked for the common man, the Prime Minister said adding the Budget also had a package for sustaining the growth momentum and creation of more jobs.

Union Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar said the UPA Government would present another budget before the General Elections. ''After today's Budget, it will be clear to the people that we not only care for cricketers but also for farmers.'' Leader of the Opposition L K Advani laughed at the Government for waking up to the farmers plight after having remained virtually oblivious of it and describing the Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver for farmers as not only "too late" but also "insufficient".

Mr Advani pointed out that a large number of farmers had taken loans from private money lenders. Arrangements should have been made to provide relief to these farmers. Besides the Government should have also reduced interest rate on loans to 4 per cent and provided an assured income insurance scheme to the farmers.

BJP Floor leader in the Rajya Sabha Vijay Kumar Malhotra, terming the budget as an ''election budget'', said while announcing waiver of farmers loans, no provision had been made for the farmers who had borrowed from 'Mahajans' (local moneylenders) who constitute 80 per cent of those suffering from indebtedness.

Party Vice President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the budget proposals were not a people-friendly exercise but poll-friendly. The proposals give a clear indication that the polls were around the corner and Mr Chidambaram had converted the budget proposals to the election manifesto of the UPA coalition.

The CPI also described it as an ''election budget with a popular punch''. Party Floor leader in Lok Sabha, Gurudas Dasgupta said one time waiver of loans as announced in the budget would not help the farmers. Instead, the Government needed to bring down the rate of interest on loans to farmers, he said.

He said the budget would not lead to decline in prices nor would it lead to any inclusive growth.

Former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda welcomed the loan waiver announced and said it will provide them some relief.

Describing the budget as most ''gender-friendly'' Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury said for the first time women's voice has been heard. ''The budget has given importance to women and women's needs. Fifty-four ministries have been put onto gender budgeting and in one sweep all programmes oriented for women will get an impetus.'' Chemical and Fertilisers Minister Ramvilas Paswan said this was the ''best ever budget''. ''There has never been such a budget in the past. The best part is it has looked after farmers' interests and those of the marginal sections.'' Union Minister for Rural Development Raghuvansh Prasad Singh termed the budget as pathbreaking specially considering the massive relief given to the farmers, which he said was the biggest since Independence.

Union Minister of State for Commerce Ashwini Kumar said the money incurred for massive relief announced for the farmers in budget would be recouped from growth in revenue collection.

Mr Mohan Singh of the Samajwadi Party termed the relief for farmers as very less considering that banks had total arrears of Rs 2.5 lakh crore of loans.

''In this sense, only 5 crore out of a total 12 crore farmers, will benefit from the budget announcement. Even these five crore will be benefitted to the tune of Rs 12000 of their loans against their total liability of Rs 50000.'' BJP leader and Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha said the government was a silent spectator when thousands of farmers committed suicides unable to repay their debts but the UPA coalition in the fag end of its term was now coming up with farm loan waiver that too to be implemented by June 30, 2008.

The timing of the implementation gives clear indication that the elections were round the corner and the government was playing to the gallery without extending help when the farmers needed the most.

The Finance Minister, however, got a thumbs up from his better half, Nalini, who endorsed the pro-farmers tone of Budget. Clad in a kanjeevaram saree and with a smile on her face she said she was happy with the Budget and welcomed the Government's decision to exempt small and marginal farmers from farm loans.

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