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Congress promises to sustain 8-10% growth — Unveils six-point charter

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The Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, releasing the party manifesto for the 2004 elections as the former Finance Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, looks on. — Kamal Narang

New Delhi , March 22

THE Congress on Monday promised to revive economic growth and sustain it across the country at between 8 per cent and 10 per cent for well over a decade as a priority for accelerated employment generation, besides instituting incentives for boosting private investment for revival of industrial growth.

Releasing the party's manifesto for the 2004 elections in the presence of senior party leaders, Dr Manmohan Singh, Mr Pranab Mukherjee and others, the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, unveiled a six-point charter, which she said was "action-oriented transparent programme, unlike the hidden agenda of the NDA Government."

The six-basics for governance encompass social cohesion and harmony, measures to increase employment opportunities by around one crore a year, steps to improve the income and welfare of kisans and khet mazdoors, unleashing the creative energies of professionals and entrepreneurs, political empowerment and full educational, economic and legal equality for women and equality of opportunity for dalits, adivasis, OBCs and religious and linguistic minorities.

Responding to questions, Mrs Gandhi said that the party would also come out with vision documents on economic policy, social empowerment, national security and foreign affairs in greater details in the coming days, as the manifesto should not be too bulky.

Asked whether the Congress would reverse some of the economic policies of the NDA Government if returned to power, Mr Pranab Mukherjee said that "the way disinvestment is taking place, squandering the assets of the people, we would like to have a transparent arrangement."

He said that public investment in agriculture is not taking place and "this policy is sure to be revised and relevant investment is made."

Stating that the Congress would pursue an Agriculture First strategy in resource allocation, the manifesto said public investment in agriculture would be stepped up substantially with focus in the backward and poor regions, covering irrigation, electrification, godowns, marketing, research and extension.

It promised to restore the entire rural credit system based on co-operatives to health. The flow of agricultural credit would be doubled in the next three years and the coverage of small and marginal farmers by institutional lending would also expand sizeably.

The Congress would also examine the feasibility of an Agricultural Stabilisation Fund entailing a system of direct support to farmers, besides systematically removing controls on the free movement of farm commodities and processing of agricultural products and regulations that depress the income of the farmers.

On infrastructure, the manifesto said public-private partnerships would form the basis of infrastructure expansion, involving public expenditure and private management. Subsidies in the provision of infrastructure would be made explicit and provided through the Budget of the Central and State governments.

As the railways had suffered over the past few years, the Congress would move purposefully to modernise the vast railway network. It would use the country's foreign exchange reserves creatively to significantly expand the extant public investment programme in power generation so as to add at least 6,000-8,000 MW of generating capacity every year. It said the public sector has a crucial role to play in power generation even as the private sector takes on an increased role in power distribution.

Underlining the need for state-level reforms, a Systems Reforms Commission is to be set up to work out, in cooperation with State governments, the details of state-level reforms that are needed to accelerate growth and improve the quality of basic social services.

"A structured and transparent approach to alleviate the burden of debt on states so as to enable them to increase social sector investment would be adopted," it said.

On industry, a National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council is to be set up to provide a continuing forum for policy interactions to sustain the growth of manufacturing industries such as food processing, textiles, engineering, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, leather, capital goods, industrial machinery and IT hardware.

Pointing out that competition in the financial sector would be expanded, it said public sector banks would be given full managerial autonomy. Interest rates must be such as to stimulate not just investment but also provide adequate returns to savers, it said.

Promising to eliminate the revenue deficit of the Central Government in five years so as to release more resources for investments in social and physical infrastructure, it said a detailed roadmap would be unveiled within 30 days of coming to power. It said without increasing the tax rates, the Congress believes that the extant tax to GDP ratio of 14-15 per cent must beraised to at least 18 per cent by the end of the decade. Value Added Tax (VAT), it said, would be introduced in cooperation and consultation with trade and industry to enhance competitiveness and check tax evasion.

The party pledges to raise public spending in education to at least 6 per cent of GDP with at least half of this amount being spent in primary and secondary schools. A cess would be proposed on all central taxes to finance the commitment to universalise access to quality basic education. A National Commission on Education would be set up to allocate resources and monitor programmes.

It will raise public spending on health to at least 2-3 per cent of GDP with focus on primary healthcare over the next five years and to around 5 per cent of GDP over the next decade.

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Congress promises to sustain 8-10% growth — Unveils six-point charter

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