Minister recommends packaged food as mid-day meal in schools

Sangli/Osmanabad: The government has got a reminder on Rahul Gandhi's "suggestion' to expand the scope of the Rs 60,000 crore farm waiver, with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi declaring that she has

Chandan Kumar, the main designer of the Chandra Rath, talks about the vehicle in crisp technical parlance which he picked up in the last two years at DCE.

While people living in Gurgaon are getting prepared for summer sweat, electricity consumers from adjoining villages have threatened to hit the streets if their concerns were not addressed.

The Supreme Court on Monday lost hope of settling the vexed issue of rehabilitation of Narmada project affected families (PAFs) by thrashing out the differences between the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA

Loan waiver for farmers is a good beginning M K Venu A former bureaucrat who had worked with finance minister P Chidambaram in 1997 summed up the 2008-09 Budget aptly in the words of Edmund Burke: "Mere parsimony is not economy. Expenses and great expenses may be an essential part in true economy'. The bureaucrat in question, former revenue secretary N K Singh, had then designed one of the most liberal tax amnesty schemes for the urban rich with a view to mainstreaming sources of black money generation. The amnesty programme had later prompted even the Supreme Court to comment that such schemes must not become regular practice. Those were difficult times when a prolonged growth slump in much of Asia had led to sluggish revenue collections year after year. Budget targets were rarely met, if at all. Consequently, the government had to resort to amnesty schemes, in desperation, to collect more revenues. Things have dramatically changed in recent years. Asia is fast becoming the engine of growth, and India is a big part of the story. The government's revenues have soared from about Rs 2,54,000 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 5,85,000 crore in 2007-08, more than doubling in four years. With its coffers overflowing, the UPA government has chosen to embark on a "great expenses' programme. And why not? If you could give amnesty to the rich in difficult times, why not amnesty to the poor, distressed farmers when the coffers are full up? The Rs 60,000 crore farm loan waiver may have some design flaws, but no one today should quarrel with the sentiment that agriculture, and the small farmer, do need a leg-up. Clearly, the distress in the farm sector in recent years has created an adverse political climate for the UPA, which has been a bit shy of selling more aggressively the unprecedented GDP growth India has seen in the past five years. It is obvious that you cannot sell high GDP growth and bulging forex reserves in large parts of rural India which are in distress. This had also become a cause of persistent friction between the Congress and the Left within the UPA alliance. All this while, it would appear, it is this political tension which had resulted in the growing communication gap between the Congress and the Left. This may have had its spillover effect even on the nuclear deal. The Left would seem to have been somewhat assuaged by the Budget proposals. The CPM general secretary Prakash Karat has for the first time welcomed the farm and social sector programmes announced by the finance minister. This may signal a temporary thaw in the relations between the Congress and CPM. There is talk that the nuclear deal may also get revived, and the Left may not do any more than make some routine noises over it. The larger issue is one of creating a conducive atmosphere in the political economy to build a consensus for further reforms that are critical for India's economy to sustain a 9 per cent growth for the next five years. The massive farm loan waiver and higher spending in social sector programmes must be appropriately used now to bring down the political opposition to further reforms which are important to propel India to the next level in the globalisation sweepstakes. The Budget in some ways has signalled a New Deal, in which every section of society has benefited, whether it's the urban middle class or the rural poor. But these benefits must now be accompanied with some obligation to work towards a common goal. The one common objective, with which the CPM must have no quarrel, is promoting higher levels of industrialisation. The CPM has also formally recorded in its party document that rapid industrialisation is necessary and there is an urgent need to move people from low yield agriculture to industry. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too has been placing repeated emphasis on this. The only caution that needs to be exercised is this process must be conducted in a democratic, bottom-up fashion. This was the prime lesson of Nandigram and Singur. The farm loan waiver must be seen as a purely temporary relief and there must be some programme by which farm families locked in low-yielding, suboptimal farm activity are moved to non-farm sectors. After one loan waiver, there is no point in their getting into another loan to do unremunerative agriculture. This would be a recipe for future fiscal disasters. Some permanent institutional arrangement must be designed by the Centre and states together to ensure that inherently remunerative farm activity gets a boost with technical, marketing and financial support. The other farm families must be encouraged through new skill development programmes to move to the manufacturing sector. This needs to be done in a focused manner. The Left Front government in West Bengal has designed an elaborate scheme, after the farmer protests in Nandigram, which seeks to handhold farm families for years after their shift to manufacturing townships built on their land. If done democratically, this is the only way to design a long-term solution to the problems of India's farm sector. A rapidly globalising economy just cannot afford 60 per cent of its population in agriculture sharing less than 20 per cent of the national income. This will remain the biggest point of tension in our political economy. The massive farm loan waiver in the Budget only addresses the symptom. Much more needs to be done to address the root cause. The Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver, at least, brings the whole issue to the centre stage. That is clearly a plus.

In a hardening of stance, some powerful wildlife NGOs and conservationists have written to the Prime Minister against the government implementing the Forest Rights Act without a fresh review. Wildlife NGOs and individuals who are part of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), which is headed by the PM, have complained that the government has not set up a committee to review the Act. "The decision taken at the fourth meeting to have the adverse impacts of the Forest Rights Act looked into by a subcommittee (of the NBWL) was totally ignored (by the environment ministry) and no such sub-committee has been formed,' the letter says. While the members have claimed the PM had agreed to a review, the minutes of the meeting record that a committee would be formed merely to

It took a much-publicised Greenpeace agitation in 2005 two years to achieve its desired result - make Wipro Infotech come out with a range of eco-friendly desktops in June 2007. Unfortunately, it will need a more sustained movement to curb the growing electronic waste menace- which is bound to gain momentum following the 2% reduction in the mean central value-added tax rate on all IT products announced in the latest Union budget, as more people dump their old desktops for newer versions. "Sales of desktops are likely to go up 15-20% because of rising demand. Unless corrective measures are taken, the e-waste problem is going to become more serious,' Vinnie Mehta, executive director of the Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology (MAIT), said. "It's high time India had proper guidelines in place on disposal of ewaste,' Greenpeace toxics campaigner Ramapati Kumar said. Currently, many companies either dump their e-waste in the garbage bin or sell it to local scrap dealers. A large quantity of desktops sold in India use hazardous chemicals like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), which makes it more necessary that these products are disposed safely.

Domestic carriers have decided against hiking fuel surcharge, that presently is Rs 1,650 per passenger, following the latest increase in jet fuel prices for this month. This move comes as March is anyways a lean travel season when airlines offer attractive schemes like low basic fares or discounts to lure fliers. Secondly, airlines did not reduce this surcharge even as aviation turbine fuel (ATF) witnessed price falls in past two months. So without passing on the benefit of lower prices to passengers, they find it it hard to pass on extra cost with the latest hike. Oil PSUs change ATF prices every month-end depending on global prices of crude as making petrol and diesel dearer is a politically sensitive decision and air travellers have to bear this burden. ATF prices touched a record high last December when airlines raised fuel surcharge to Rs 1,650 and coupled with other cess and taxes, the fixed cost for each ticket became Rs 2,025. In January and February, ATF prices saw reductions but airlines refsued to react, calling this an

Expressing concern over rising food prices, finance minister P Chidambaram said he had not forgotten the corporate sector and defended the Rs 60,000 crore farm loan waiver on the ground that the money would flow to a distressed segment of the productive sector where the output was either stagnant or falling. "One of the reasons why inflation is still a threat is food prices in India,' Chidambaram said, adding that after a long gap, India has become a marginal importer of foodgrain, which is a dangerous sign. "Because we are dependent on import, we are subject to world prices... No country with as large a population as India can be dependent on imports (of foodgrain),' he said at the postbudget interactive session with industry chambers. Since April 2007, prices of wheat in the global market has risen by 88% and that of rice by 15%, he said. "Taking all this into consideration, we came to the conclusion that farmers' distress called for an unorthodox response... the response was farm loan waiver,' Chidambaram said. The wholesale price-based inflation rose to 4.89% from 4.35% in the previous week. Responding to the issues raised by the corporate sector, he said, "I have not forgotten the corporate sector. Despite the advice given by my chief economic advisor and suggestion from Economic Survey, we accepted your (corporates) demand of retaining peak customs duty rate.' He said excise duty reductions and relief given in personal income tax would help in spurring demand for consumer goods and benefit the industry. Exports grow 20.5% in January India's exports showed a healthy growth of 20.47% in January this fiscal over the same month last year, but expanded by a single digit figure of 7.66% in rupee terms due to pricey domestic currency. Exports increased to $13.14 billion in January 2008 from $10.9 billion a year ago, while imports grew by a huge 63.57% to $22.50 billion, leaving a trade deficit of $9.36 billion. PTI