Saturday, Jul 05, 2003
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By Alok Mukherjee
The economic blueprint is contained in the `Priority Agenda for Action for 2003-04' drawn up by the Planning Commission with inputs from the Prime Minister's Office. It includes programmes with mass appeal such as providing Kisan Credit Cards to all eligible farmers, setting up of farmers' markets in all towns on highways to encourage farmers to sell their produce in raw, semi-processed or processed form and provide collateral free credit to the small-scale sector.
Other people-oriented programmes include district-level surveys to identify `out-of-school children' working in different occupations with the ultimate objective of eradication child labour, expediting the programme to provide functional literacy to cover all left out districts, monitoring the progress in meeting the needs for maternal health, child health and contraception, reducing severe grades of under-nutrition and preparation of a policy document for convergence of services among health, nutrition and family welfares.
The priority agenda does include some contentious issues such as labour reforms to provide for contract labour, phasing out of subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene, changes in the Banking Regulation Act to reduce Government stake in public sector banks and amendments to the Coal Mines Nationalisation Act to allow the private sector into coal mining. But with these measures requiring Parliamentary approval, there is little possibility of the Government getting these changes through without Opposition cooperation. Only, the phasing out of subsidy on cooking gas and kerosene can be done through an administrative order, but that is unlikely in an election year.
There are some other items on the agenda but early action on them is not likely. For instance, disinvestment of Indian Airlines and Air India is included in the action plan, but such an exercise has been put off indefinitely, owing to inter-Ministerial wrangles and the continuing slump in the global aviation industry.
The question of removing sectoral caps on foreign equity in select sector is also included, but the matter is pending before a Group of Ministers.
Instead, the focus will now be on providing guaranteed wage employment of 100 days to the poorest of the poor in identified 131 backward districts during the lean season, pushing the Swarozgar Yojana in districts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam and Jharkand where incidence of poverty is high and greater empowerment of panchayats by bringing about legislation or constitutional amendment for making it mandatory for State Governments to devolve funds, functions and functionaries in selected sectors.
Since many of the programmes on the priority agenda have cross-Ministry responsibilities, their monitoring is being done at two levels some by the Planning Commission and others by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Reforms or the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.
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