Appreciating Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for doing a “fine and delicate balancing” act in the budget exercise, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said the government had many essential social obligations, to fulfil which resources must be raised.

Addressing the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting here, Ms. Gandhi said food prices continued to be the Congress' foremost priority, and it had responded to this “pressing concern” with all resources at its command.

The food price inflation detracted from the United Progressive Alliance's outstanding accomplishment in sustaining high economic growth, which was essential for generating resources for social welfare programmes and inclusive long-term prosperity.

“Despite the fact that this was a crisis born of circumstances outside our control, the government has put in place proactive policies to mitigate the hardships of the people,” Ms. Gandhi said, while impressing upon the Chief Ministers to ensure that the public distribution system functioned properly and to carry out de-hoarding operations effectively.

Women's Bill

She attached the highest importance, other than the Right to Food Security, to the Women's Reservation Bill, saying many years had passed since Rajiv Gandhi first unveiled his vision of empowering women. “It is a matter of pride that even though it has taken so long, it is our government that has cleared the legislation in Cabinet.”

Listing the UPA government's achievements in its previous stint, Ms. Gandhi said it had built a structure of legal entitlements for the aam aadmi, starting with the Right to Information and the Right to Work, and followed by the Right to Education in the second term.

“We are now ready for the next step of placing the draft Food Security Bill for discussion in the public domain.”

Pointing out that Left-wing extremism continued to be a major challenge, Ms. Gandhi said the government was committed to addressing it from both the developmental and law and order perspectives in partnership with the affected States.

Assailing the Opposition for its “disruptive” approach during budget presentation, Ms. Gandhi said criticism, differences and debate were an integral part of a democracy. “But the manner in which the Opposition sought to disrupt the presentation of the budget last week was not in keeping with the democratic norms and traditions that India cherishes.”

Attend House regularly

Asking her party MPs to take seriously the issue of attendance, Ms. Gandhi said showing up in the House regularly was part of the basic duty and responsibility. “Even to sit and listen to parliamentary proceedings is an education in itself.”

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