Document release today; rising prices, security of women to be addressed

The Congress’s manifesto that will be released on Wednesday would, party sources told The Hindu, address all the key issues that have plagued it in the last few years — corruption, rising prices of essentials, security of women, need for greater employment opportunities for the youth, a burgeoning subsidy bill and the shrinking of investments from abroad — even as it promises to enlarge the rights-based architecture it set up over the last decade by introducing the rights to health, housing, water and sanitation.

Simultaneously, in a bid to carve out a new constituency, the Congress manifesto makes a push to reach out to the population that has climbed above the poverty line but has yet to make its way into the middle class — the 70 crore population that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has been referring to in his election speeches. Thus, for instance, the manifesto promises to universalise the Indira Awaas Yojana (housing for rural poor) and the Rajiv Gandhi Awaas Yojana (housing for urban poor) with the proviso that they will operate with a set of criteria to identify those who will not be allowed to access the two programmes.

In its 2004 manifesto, the Congress had promised to try and persuade corporates to increase the percentage of SCs/STs in their employment in exchange for incentives; with persuasion having failed, the Congress has now promised a law that will mandate a quota for this section in the private sector.

An experiment that Mr.Gandhi tried in December 2013 when he asked the party’s Chief Ministers to delist the fruits and vegetables from their respective Agricultural Produce Markets Committee (APMC) Acts so that the farmers could choose where to sell their produce and consumers would get the benefit of lower prices, is likely to find fuller expression in the manifesto.

The Congress manifesto has also included measures to improve the business climate in the country through, for instance, generating clarity around 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.

The document also promises to give legal backing to the UPA’s National Rural Health Mission, an ambitious programme aimed at reaching out to the rural poor, so as to create a comprehensive guaranteed health service for all citizens. Public expenditure on health currently stands at 1.2 per cent of GDP; the Congress wants now increase it to 3 per cent if it returns to power.

With women frequently finding themselves vulnerable when dealing with the police, the manifesto suggests that 50 per cent of the police personnel, from the constable up, be drawn from among women, that fast-track courts be set up in regional centres as well as district and State headquarters and that the creation of 2,000 all-women police stations within five years be targeted.

Rights to land, the draft document says, should be given to women whose husbands have migrated to towns or other States in search of work.

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