Special Correspondent

`Farm sector neglected, no constructive proposals to check price increase'

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan expressed disappointment over the budget presented by Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

Giving his reaction to the budget at a press conference here, Mr. Achuthanandan said the budget neglected the farm sector and contained no constructive proposals to check price increase. "Growth rate oriented approach to development is becoming bad fixation for the Union Government," he said.

Though the overall growth rate had gone up by two per cent over the last three years [to touch the level of nine per cent], farm sector was languishing with an annual growth of just 2.9 per cent. The budget proposed a higher level of credit disbursement to the farm sector, but there was no step to reduce the interest rate on farm loans, he noted.

Imports of farm produce too were to continue as before. This meant that the farm crisis that had plagued rural India for the last several years would stay, Mr. Achuthanandan said. "We had expected that the Centre would come up with a debt relief scheme for farmers as we had done in Kerala, but this did not happen," he said.

He welcomed the budget proposal to stop futures trading in wheat and rice and the one to reduce duty on petroleum products. These measures were, however, not enough to bridle the current increasing trend in prices of essential commodities. The budget should have set apart funds to help the States in their market intervention initiatives, he said.

Political suicide: Isaac

Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac, at another press conference, said that the United Progressive Alliance Government was committing "political suicide" by persisting with its fiscal adjustment programme.

Mr. Chidambaram had slashed revenue deficit aiming to achieve zero revenue deficit next year, but in doing so he would have to keep the plan size suppressed.

The plan size should have been increased further so that there would be funds for strong market intervention programmes to hold the prices, in addition to employment generation programmes and relief measures for farmers. Dr. Isaac noted that the plan size proposed in the Chidambaram budget was just 18 per cent higher than the current year's. The Planning Commission had actually proposed that the increase in plan size should be at least 22 per cent.

Both Mr. Achuthanandan and Dr. Isaac said that, from the budget, it was clear that the Congress had not learnt its lessons from even the latest Assembly elections in Punjab and Uttarakhand.