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Chidambaram bets on reforms — To focus on investments in manufacturing, farm sectors

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The Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, on his way to assume office at the North Block in the Capital on Monday. - Kamal Narang

New Delhi , May 24

THE country's new Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, said on Monday that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government would go ahead with the reform process and attempt to further consolidate the economy through catalysing massive public and private investments in the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.

In line with the UPA's stated policy of "reforms with a human face", Mr Chidambaram said that he would endeavour to promote investments with an eye to create jobs and incomes, besides ensuring growth.

"The policies adopted since 1991 have brought considerable benefits and strengths to the Indian economy. What the new Government will now do, and what I will now do, is to factor in the experience gained during the last 13 years," Mr Chidambaram said during his first news conference after assuming office today.

Though unwilling to get drawn into specifics at a time when the UPA is yet to finalise its common minimum programme (CMP), Mr Chidambaram hinted that with Dr Singh at the helm there was no alternative but to embark on further reforms.

"Continuity (in economic reforms) would be there since we are going back to the days of the original reformer, Dr Manmohan Singh."

Stating that the economy was in a "resilient mode", the Finance Minister said: "There is great scope for consolidating the growth momentum with special emphasis on agriculture, the manufacturing sector and employment. These three sectors require, and other sectors also require, massive investment."

Mr Chidambaram said that "special and careful attention" would be given to areas of concern.

"I have reason to believe that the economy is in a resilient mode - in terms of growth, inflation and balance of payments. I am conscious that there are some areas of concern and these areas will receive special and careful attention," he said.

On the fiscal front, Mr Chidambaram said that the UPA Government would be committed to fiscal consolidation.

"Our commitment to fiscal consolidation as reflected in the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003 will be honoured."

Speaking on the stock market crash soon after the election results were declared, Mr Chidambaram said that Mr G.N. Bajpai, the SEBI Chairman, was looking into the matter and that he would soon meet the capital market regulator to discuss the issue.

On whether his Budget for 2004-05 would be like that of his ``big bang Budget'' (1997-98), he said ``I will try.'' He said that he would present a full Budget by July 31.

"The UPA Government will blend good economic with good politics and hard work. India must shine, but India should shine in all elements."

Mr Chidambaram hoped that the CMP "will enthuse all sections of the people to work harder in order to make India a stronger country, to make the Indian economy a stronger economy, and to ensure better lives for all the people of our country".

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