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"Fully faithful to the CMP," is how the Finance Minister himself described the Budget.

New Delhi , July 8

THIS is one minister who believes in walking the talk. When tFinance Minister, Mr P Chidambaram, rose to present his maiden Budget under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) banner, the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) was clearly the foundation of his policy announcement.

"Fully faithful to the CMP," is how the FM himself described the Budget. And this was clearly evident when the man at the helm of North Block referred to the NCMP at least 20 times during his Budget speech.

Even at the risk of annoying the UPA allies, the Left parties, Mr Chidambaram, has done a tight-rope walk by liberalising foreign direct investment limit in key sectors of insurance, civil aviation and telecom. The NCMP had clearly stated that FDI would continue to be encouraged and actively sought particularly in areas of infrastructure, high-technology and exports.

On the disinvestment front too, the Finance Minister has reiterated the need to retain the public sector character. However, the Government could dilute its equity and raise resources to meet the social need of the people. Mr Chidambaram has categorically stated that the manner in which the Rs 4000 crore raised from the divestment that is to "piggy back'' the NTPC IPO and some others would be utilised will be reported to the House.

Industry too received some attention with the setting up of the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council, while on labour the Finance Minister reiterated introduction of the National Employment Guarantee Act that is to ensure 100 days of employment to one-person-per-household. Till the Act comes into effect, the Government will introduce food-for-work-programme in 150 most backward districts.

Retaining retail investor confidence in the Indian stock markets definitely received a mention in Mr Chidambaram's speech, but investors at the bourses will be subject to a new turnover tax.

In accordance with the policy document unveiled by the UPA, agriculture and rural economy have also been the focal points of Budget 2004. The Minister announced doubling of the agriculture credit.

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`No clear theme in the Budget' — Mr Yashwant Sinha, former Finance Minister

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