Neena Vyas

NEW DELHI: The one refrain that emerged from the different voices in the National Democratic Alliance on the Union budget for 2008-09 was that more should have been done for farmers, especially those who were in the clutches of private money-lenders.

While conceding that there were aspects in the budget that were welcome — loan waiver for marginal and small farmers, changes in direct tax slabs benefiting the middle class — the BJP leaders dismissed these as election year sops.

Leader of the Opposition L. K. Advani was joined by Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav and Shiv Sena leader Anant Geete in pointing out that nothing had been done for those who had taken money from money-lenders at exorbitant interest rates.

The other point on which the NDA leaders were united was that interest on credit to the farming sector should have been reduced to four per cent (from the current seven per cent).

“A charade”

Mr. Advani described the budget exercise as a “charade” and saw in it “heavy communal overtones” — he was perhaps referring to the fact that this was seen by many as an election-year exercise and there were schemes for scholarships for minorities and other weaker sections.

Speaking on behalf of the BJP, the former Finance Minister, Yashwant Sinha, charged that the budget proposals on debt relief for farmers had been “leaked” to the Congress, hence the “elaborate drama” of farmers’ delegations at the AICC office these past few days. He wondered why no budgetary provision had been made for the loan waiver of Rs.60,000 crore and warned that the government “should not issue bonds to banks” and thus put the debt burden on the future.

He found fault with the budget for lack of policy announcements on economic reforms, including infrastructure and inflation. His forecast was that the budget would be inflationary and “could further slow down the economy.”

Almost all Opposition members wondered how the government would be able to meet the deadline of June 30, 2008 set by the Finance Minister for waiver of loans. How would the land holdings of farmers be identified by that date since revenue records in some States were not up to date? That date only suggested “early general election” Mr. Sinha said.

Mr. Jaswant Singh, also a former Finance Minister, sought a clarification on the procedure for farm loan waiver.

“Who would pay the money to whom? Would the banks have to carry the burden or would the government pay the banks to write off the loans?”

Privately, BJP MPs conceded that the UPA government had done more for the salaried middle class than the NDA had done.

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