The Congress draft manifesto for Elections 2014 promises to enlarge the rights-based architecture it set up over the last decade, if the UPA is returned to power for a third term. It plans to introduce the rights to health, housing, water and sanitation.

If the emphasis on the social sector remains its trademark signature, the Congress has also, in its draft, included measures to improve the business climate in India through, for instance, bringing clarity to taxing foreign firms — so that Vodafone-type fiascos do not recur — rationalising subsidies, sticking to fiscal deficit targets, pushing direct tax reform and hastening environmental approvals.

Having failed for a decade to persuade corporates to increase the percentage of SCs/STs in their employment in exchange for incentives, the Congress promises a law that will mandate a quota for them in the private sector, even as it commits itself to creating a 100 million new jobs for youth by 2020.

After a final meeting of the party’s manifesto committee scheduled for March 16, said a senior Union Minister, who is part of the team drafting the manifesto, Congress president Sonia Gandhi will release the final document on March 21.

“Our manifesto is nearing finality. We will release it on March 21,” he said a day after the manifesto committee, headed by Defence Minister A. K. Antony, met here.

The manifesto has been prepared after “exhaustive consultations” with different stakeholders, including a series of direct interactions between different interest groups and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi: Mr Gandhi has repeatedly said that the process of manifesto-making should be opened up.

Health reforms

The UPA government has already set up the National Rural Health Mission, an ambitious programme to reach out to the rural poor; now, the Congress wants to give legal backing to that. Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, party sources said, was asked to draft a framework for a comprehensive guaranteed health service for all citizens. Public expenditure on health stands currently at 1.2 per cent of GDP; the Congress wants now increase it to 3 per cent if it returns to power.

The programme envisages free medicines and medical tests at government hospitals, and health care centres; a National Health Insurance Programme for all, with cashless prepaid insurance; a National Health Mission covering both urban and rural areas; five mobile health care vans for each of the 640 districts in the country; and creation of six million jobs in the sector by 2020.

The draft manifesto also talks of setting up a “Regulatory Reform Task force” to review all regulatory processes of the country, and a Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission.

And while the party's emphasis on the social sector will continue, it hopes to shed its populist image by saying that only the “absolutely necessary” subsides will remain.

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