Ashok Dasgupta

Excise and import tariff cut on commodities

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday sought to defend the Budget proposals for the new fiscal saying that they were anti-inflationary as their objective was to check the price spiral through cuts in excise duty and import tariff on a number of commodities.

Speaking to newspersons here, Dr. Singh said the UPA Government had taken another step forward in its ongoing exercise of fiscal consolidation and deficit reduction. "The budget certainly has the anti-inflationary effect... Inflation will not be allowed to get out of hand. We are moving in that direction," he said.

Import of essentials

Noting that the Government had set a target of nine per cent GDP (gross domestic product) growth during the Eleventh Plan for speedy development, the Prime Minister said that it would not hesitate to import certain essential commodities in the wake of constraints in domestic supplies. For instance, apart from edible oils, the Government imported 55 lakh tonnes of wheat this year.

In keeping with the Government's commitment on increased spending on social infrastructure, Dr. Singh said health and education, especially at the secondary level, received special focus. The budget proposed greater emphasis on improving access to social services and a safety net. "Education and healthcare are the primary imperatives as far as this budget is concerned," he said.

By way of the Government's response to tackle the supply-side constraints in future, Dr. Singh said that a number of schemes such as the National Programme of Pulses, Ground Water Resources and the strengthening of the Rain-Fed Authority should provide a fresh momentum in this direction.

On the hardships of the "aam aadmi", Dr. Singh argued that the expectation of the masses had been taken care of by way of the hike in the income tax exemption limit by Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 1.10 lakh.

On developing infrastructure, he said the Government was considering a proposal to utilise a part of the country's foreign exchange reserves. The matter was under discussion with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). "We are toying with the idea of utilising foreign exchange reserves for infrastructure development. Things are under discussion with the RBI in this regard... This will materialise in due course," he said.

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