Concerned over inflation, Congress President Sonia Gandhi today asked the government to keep prices of essential commodities at affordable levels.

“Prices of essential commodities particularly must always be kept at affordable levels and inflation kept in check,” she said in her inaugural address at the 83rd Plenary Session of the Congress Party here.

While praising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for steering the economy on to the high growth path, the UPA Chairperson said there were crucial challenges facing the country.

Describing inflation as one of the crucial challenges, Ms. Gandhi said the government was addressing the issues and the rate of price rise has moderated in recent times.

“As we sustain the momentum of high growth, we face some crucial challenges... our government is dealing with these challenges. The inflation rate has declined considerably in recent months,” she added.

Inflation declined to 7.48 per cent in November from 8.58 per cent in October. It had hovered above the 10 per cent mark during the six months till July, following which it came down to a single digit figure.

However, food inflation jumped to 9.46 per cent for the week ended December 4 from 8.69 per cent in the previous week.

It was over 20 per cent a year ago.

With regard to growth, Ms. Gandhi said, “Since May, 2004, under our Prime Minister’s leadership, the economy has moved on to a much higher growth path. His stewardship through the global crisis is acknowledged universally.

“It is this high economic growth that has enabled us to fund our social welfare programmes and schemes,” she added.

The Indian economy was expanding at over 9 per cent before the global financial meltdown moderated the rate to 6.7 per cent in 2008-09. Thereafter, the growth rate, spurred by the stimulus provided by the government and the Reserve Bank, moved up to 7.4 per cent in 2009-10.

In the current financial year, the economy expanded by 8.9 per cent in the first half (April-September). The average growth rate for the entire fiscal is expected to be at the pre-global crisis level of around 9 per cent.

Ms. Gandhi also underlined the need for ensuring the benefits of growth reach all sections of society. “The benefits of growth must be shared equitably with the weaker sections of society,” she added.

She further said subsidies meant for the poor much reach the targeted section of the population.

“Subsidies enjoyed by the relatively well—off must be redirected to those in need,” she added.

There is also a need for protecting and regenerating the environment, forests and biodiversity, she said, adding that the quality of public education and healthcare needs to be improved, as they are the vital building blocks of an inclusive society.

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