Jobs, cheaper food top Cong agenda

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 26 2009, 04:58am hrs
At a time when economies the world over are seen to be reeling and job cuts are the order of the day, the Congress manifesto for the 2009 elections commits to create new jobs in rural areas and bring a comprehensive social security scheme for the disabled and elderly and single women-headed households. Released on Tuesday by party president Sonia Gandhi, in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior leaders at the AICC headquarters, the partys manifesto says regulations will be made to ensure good corporate governance, ethical business practices and accountability to all stakeholders. The manifesto also favoured extending the policies which it has put in place for attracting private investments for oil exploration to other mineral resources, including coal and iron ore.

The Congress, in another area of concern disinvestment has done a balancing act. Contending that it is against blind privatisation followed by the BJP-led NDA, the party says it is in favour of the Indian people having a right to own shares of public sector companies. The disvestment of stake, however, would not lead to the government losing majority control, it maintains.

With a view to bring uniformity in taxation of goods, the party says it will introduce a moderate goods and services tax and abolish all other central and state level indirect taxes.

The party manifesto also says power generating capacity will be increased by at least 12000 to 15000 mw every year through coal, hydel, nuclear and renewable energy.

Underscoring its concern for farmers, the party promises to ensure loans for them at lower rates or interest, besides providing interest relief to those who repay their bank loans on schedule. The party also pledged to end all control on free movement of farm commodities and processing of agri products. With the controversies surrounding SEZs and land acquisition in mind, the party says it will ensure market rates for land belonging to farmers that will be acquired for industrial projects. Farmers will also be given the option of becoming stakeholders in such industrial ventures, it adds.

Keeping the focus on the aam admi, the party has also pledged to subsidise electricity for the poor and said that it will implement a scheme to supply energy to such families at affordable prices. These measures are only in continuation to the Rs 65000-crore loan waiver scheme, targeted to benefit 3.8 crore farmers.

In a move that can be termed as populist, the Congress has also promised to pass a legislation ensuring 25 kilos of rice or wheat at Rs 3 per kilo every month to all families below the poverty line in the country. The cheap rice and wheat scheme will most certainly be the focus of the Congress campaign in the coming days. The popular scheme, which has ensured political victories in states like Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh, is yet to be widened to the national level but may be institutionalised through a legislation, like the NREGA. The scheme will burn a deep hole in the governments pockets, but the Congress argues that subsidy is necessary for the truly needy and poor sections of society. The Rajashekhara Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh had announced a scheme of rice at Rs 2 a kilo last year, which cost the state govenrment about Rs 2000 crore. Reddy can in fact take credit for the party promise to implement it at the national level, as it was he who had made the suggestion to Ms Gandhi last year.

The party has also taken an ambivalent stand on reservations for SCs and STs in the private sector, which senior party leaders like Meira Kumar have been insisting on institutionalising it. Without making any such commitment, the party contends that it is deeply committed to pursuing affirmative action in this regard. It has however, come out with a clear stand on women reservation, saying the Congress-led government will reserve one third of all central government jobs for women.