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The Plan outlay of Maharashtra for 2008-09 has been pegged at Rs 25,000 crore inclusive of additional Central Assistance of Rs 250 crore for projects of special interest to the State. This was agreed at a meeting between the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, here today. In his opening remarks, Mr Ahluwalia said performance in both human development and growth rate of the State was satisfactory as it is all set to achieve growth rate above national target for the Eleventh Plan. Against 3.8 per cent growth rate in Ninth Plan, the State has recorded growth of 8.2 per cent in the Tenth Plan. Improving urban infrastructure, housing, irrigation and agriculture should be given priority during the Eleventh Plan. He said the Commission was keen to improve performance of centrally sponsored programmes and invited suggestions on flexibility needed in the guidelines of these programmes.

A plan of Rs 25,000 crore for Maharashtra for the year 2008-09 was on Wednesday approved by the Planning Commission at a meeting in New Delhi. The approval was given during today's meeting of Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh with Planning Commission deputy chairman Dr M S Ahluwalia. This year's plan is Rs 4,800 crore higher than the previous year, an official release said here. The Planning Commission expressed satisfaction over the performance shown by the state government in various sectors and the formation of the minority welfare department in the state. The chief minister had demanded allocation of Rs 210 crore for Youth Commonwealth Games scheduled to be held in October at Pune. He had also demanded Rs 400 crore for the Mithi river beautification project. Complimenting the State on satisfactory growth rate and fiscal performance, Ahluwalia said Maharashtra was poised to exceed the projected national average growth rate of nine per cent for the 11th Plan (2007-12). He, however, stressed the need to improve urban infrastructure, irrigation and agriculture during the Plan. He further said the Centre was keen to improve connectivity with Mumbai. Also, the Western Freight Corridor Construction Work was likely to begin this year. He also drew the attention of the state towards depleting forest cover, rural poverty and child sex ratio. It was pointed out that state needed to step up efforts in the power sector for encouraging investment.

Govt's annual report doubts ability to eliminate revenue deficit. Calling double-digit growth a tough task, the government today cited foreign capital inflow and inflation as the macroeconomic challenge to high sustained growth in its Economic Survey for 2007-08. "If you wish me to sum up in one phrase the outlook for 2008-09, I would say optimism but with caution is the watchword,' Finance Minister P Chidambaram told reporters after presenting the Survey in Parliament. The annual report card on the economy also said the target of bringing the revenue deficit down to zero by 2008-09 would "remain a challenge,' pointing to a step-up in expenditure as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance prepares for general elections next year. Though bullish on growth, the Survey has sounded an unmistakable note of caution on the capital inflows that the country has seen in the last several months. As these inflows are substantially higher than what the country needs to cover its trade deficit, these funds threaten to raise prices, leading to a tighter monetary policy. This, in turn, is threatening to capital investments in the country. As the sub-prime crisis unfolds in the US and Europe, global investors are likely to be more risk-averse and are, therefore, likely to cut investments in emerging markets like India, the Survey says. However, this could be balanced out by the increased liquidity created by Western Central Banks to deal with the crisis. "On balance, the decline in capital inflows as a proportion of GDP in 2008 is likely to be modest,' the Survey notes. There could be a softening in global commodity prices because of the moderate slowdown in the world economy led by the sub-prime crisis in the US, the Survey says. However, the slowdown could hurt Indian exports, resulting in a modest increase in the country's deficit in trade of goods and services, unless the US slowdown turns into a severe recession, it adds. The Survey also lists radical policy reform options. These include allowing regulated private entry into coal mining, phasing out controls on sugar, fertiliser and drug industries, opening up all retail trade to foreign investment, raising foreign ownership of insurance companies from 26 per cent to 49 per cent (51 per cent for companies operating in the rural sector) and allowing foreign companies to set up fully-owned rural banks. Some of these options like opening retail and insurance sectors have been debated internally by the government in the past. However, opposition from its Communist allies has made it put these proposals on the backburner. The Survey does not mention how actively these options are being considered by the government. However, a finance ministry official told Business Standard that these are the policy reforms that need to be undertaken if the country wants to move to the high growth trajectory. "Hopefully, the inputs will be picked and debated for implementation. These are suggestions and not recommendations,' the official said. In addition, the Survey calls for amending the Factories Act that would allow companies to meet seasonal ups and downs in demand and new bankruptcy laws to facilitate the exit of old management as expeditiously as possible. It also lists an ambitious disinvestment programme of listing all closely-held public sector companies and auctioning all loss-making units that cannot be revived. For the first three years of its rule (2004-07), the government kept its word to the Left parties and did no disinvestment at all. It was only earlier this year that it decided to list all its power utilities.

Ashok Dasgupta Elections are due in many State Assemblies this year P. Chidambaram With Assembly polls due in a number of States during the year-end and the general elections in 2009, it is a foregone conclusion that the Union budget for the next fiscal, to be presented by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in three days from now, will not be a harsh one, even at worst. For the simple reason that over the last few weeks, the people's aspirations of deriving some benefits by way of budgetary goodies have been raised so high through statements by various functionaries of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and its coalition partners that anything not matching up to their expectations would perhaps be viewed as a great betrayal. And that's something that the ruling regime can ill afford, especially when the government is set to unveil its policy programmes and statement of accounts, the fifth and final in its current Lok Sabha term. In effect, the government will not only have to but also be seen as compensating the

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